Versions of Donald Trump, James Dean and a pair of flustered doctors showed up on Hellgate High School's stage Wednesday.
The strange crowd was part of Zootown Improv's appearance at Hellgate for Diversity Week. Improv actors – Christian Grant, Madison Blak-Plautz, Evan Smith and Sara Reynolds – played six games with help from Hellgate students in the audience.
The event was one of many during the week that centered on the theme: "Different Perspectives."
"It's all about getting people to think outside their normal comfort zone," said Hellgate Flagship coordinator Emily Sandersfeld. "I was thinking, with improv, it definitely gets people to be someone who they aren't, and literally putting themselves in someone else's shoes. This was sort of taking the theme extremely literal."
The overall goal of Diversity Week, she said, is respect.
"All our presentations and everything we do is for students to learn how to respect one another and to really give them a chance to show that they do," she said.
Diversity Week launched at about the same time as the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, 13 years ago. It started as a way to bring filmmakers and documentaries to the schools.
"It's evolved into Diversity Week, where community members come in, different panels present on different issues on a whole spectrum dealing with awareness and respect and social issues," said Nicole Mitchell, program supervisor of the Flagship Program.
Today, Hellgate, Big Sky High School and Willard Alternative High School participate.
Flagship started 20 years ago in Missoula. It's a free after-school program that contracts with Missoula County Public Schools to have full-time Flagship coordinators in eight schools. They work with teachers, students and parents to plan an after-school program "as an extension of what they're learning during the day," said Nick Roberts, Flagship program director. Flagship serves about 2,100 students each year.
Diversity Week is a unique opportunity, he said, to provide during the school day what Flagship does after school.
"In addition to specific issues that we take on, whether that be violence or conservation or gender identity issues or arts expression, Diversity Week, I think, is a form whereby we're inviting them to take ownership of their expression," Roberts said. "Through that, it can be in developing their voice through the arts or through film or in conversation with their peers, but giving them the modeling opportunity to have a safe, respected and invited way to be their own voice."
Several Hellgate students stepped out of their comfort zone and onto the stage Wednesday, creating scenes with the Zootown Improv crew.
Reynolds explained what they do: Improv is like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Sketch is like "Saturday Night Live. And stand-up is like ... "Kevin Hart!" one student said.
Zootown Improv started two years ago to bring comedy to Missoula.
"You don't have to worry about being funny," Grant told the students, "because the humor comes in the reality of the scene. It's fascinating to watch the scene build before your very eyes."
The improv crew and Hellgate students played New Choice (every time Reynolds called out "new choice," the actor had to change what he or she just said), Ship of Fools (actors would pop into the scene and say something random the other two actors would have to react to), A Word From Our Sponsor (actors took tidbits from a normal conversation to create an unusual commercial), These Are Five Things (actors had to rapid-fire name five different ways to do something), Freeze (an actor shouted, "Freeze!" and tapped out another actor, completely changing the scene) and Dating Game (Grant had to guess the identities of three possible suitors by asking random questions).
Roberts said he's not aware of any pushback from parents or the community, but would welcome the dialogue.
"That's part of the opportunity," he said. "We would welcome any healthy dialogue about what is diversity, what does it mean, how are we identifying it, how are we claiming identities here in Missoula and what makes our community healthy."