“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called Research. ” -- A. Einstein
The FUN Institute
There are many reasons why improv theater has taken root in Santa Cruz and become a bona fide artistic tradition. Two of those reasons are named Clifford Henderson and Dixie Cox. Proud recipients of 2014 Gail Rich Awards.
Clifford Henderson and Dixie Cox, founders of the FUN INSTITUTE, have a combined total of over 54 years experience teaching improv, acting, and team-building skills. They have taught workshops for high-tech businesses, university educators, retreat centers, psychotherapists, incarcerated women, a Zen community, stroke survivors, and the public at-large. Their home base is the Broadway Playhouse, in Santa Cruz, California. They are also the creators of the two-woman show, Detour Ahead: the Clifford & Dixie Show. Both were founders and coordinators of the popular Santa Cruz event, The Improvathon. They’ve played with troupes Sapphos Lapphos and Loose Cannon Theater starting back in 1993. Both are familiar faces on and off the stages of Santa Cruz.
Photo by Shmuel Thaler
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Dixie Cox and Clifford Henderson Improvise Life
By Gwen Mickelson
Sentinel staff writer
Responding quickly and unhesitatingly to a cue from an offstage voice, Dixie Cox gazes with big eyes into her fellow actor’s face and utters, in a tremulous voice, “It is fertility season!”
It’s just such goofiness, fun and spontaneity that help keep the fires stoked for improvisational theater duo Cox and her life partner of 15 years, Clifford Henderson.
“It’s not the money, that’s for sure,” said Henderson, whose given name, now considered masculine, has been handed down as a legacy among the females in her family.
“We always say, ‘We make tens of dollars!’”said Cox, with a laugh.
The pair started the Fun Institute, an improv acting class company, in 2001, and have been one of the main forces behind improvisational theater in Santa Cruz since 1992.
So if it isn’t the money that’s driving them, what is it?
“It’s so satisfying,” said Henderson. “Our love is watching other people take the jump of being onstage. That’s such a beautiful moment to see.”
By all accounts, they’re good at what they do.
“Clifford and Dixie have affected so many people in such a positive way,” said Kari Hansen, of Santa Cruz, who’s practiced improv for eight years. “I’ve seen people change through improv — become happier and more creative.”
The hallmarks of the craft — connecting with and being seen by other people, trying out new roles in safety, flying without a script, expressing creativity, laughing and, most of all, failing without consequences — are all things that “open people up,” said Henderson. “Whatever damage they’ve hidden away, you see the onion peel back.”
They say a supportive community has evolved around improv, but the practice also enters the couple’s relationship.
“We work out our problems through improv,” said Cox. “It’s just being playful.”
“I love that,” said Henderson. “And I love that you’re the storyteller and the actor and the director. It just challenges me completely.”
Cox and Henderson rent space for their classes and workshops from the Broadway Playhouse in association with West Performing Arts. Their Saturday drop-in classes can attract up to 25 people at times, and they say they’ve taught “hundreds” of students over the years.
“Half the time we feel like we built a steamroller, and we’re running in front of it,” said Cox.
“But it’s so fun, too,” said Henderson. “We’re mostly amused that this has become our life.”
Reproduced by permission of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
“Improv changed my life. All of a sudden I have friends! I have a safe place to be as crazy as I want to be. Those women are the best thing to happen to me, since I came to the United States of America. God Bless Them !”
“When you walk into their classroom, you feel so much support and love and safety, that you do anything. You take big risks, you don’t mind looking foolish and that carries over into the rest of your life.”
“If you want to be everybody you can be, then you need to do improv, because you have permission to play out all aspects of yourself .”
Tai Chi Instructor
“ It’s more fun than a ride on a fire truck!”
Jim Gallas, yoga teacher and Loose Cannon Troupe member.
“It’s incredible amazing energy that they bring to the class and it’s catchy. When you’re studying Improv you’re studying life. Life is Improv.”
Ann Goldsmith, Pastor