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Student on stage with veteran actors

Autumn Phillips

It’s Friday night and 18-year-old Lia Kozatch is getting ready for work. She does some warm-up exercises in front of the mirror, then rushes to her place backstage at Sabre’s Comedy Den.

Kozatch is the youngest in a cast of actors, some almost twice her age, that performs improvisational comedy every weekend.

She knows the skeleton of a script, the context of the skits she will perform tonight, but most of it will be made up on the spot.

Improv is a job for fast thinkers with sharp wits. It’s a push for the Steamboat Springs High School senior who usually listens more than she speaks.

But it was a challenge she was excited to take.

“I saw the ad in the newspaper and decided to try out,” she said. “I put together a resume of all the things I have done in the last four years and brought it with me.”

Kozatch was the only girl to audition both nights, she said, and the only student from Steamboat Springs High School.

She got the job.

At 18, Kozatch found herself on stage with veteran actors including club owner Dale Walter who has performed for 20 years on stage and television and in films, and Scott Drebus who ran a comedy club in Detroit before moving to Steamboat.

And she was playing opposite veteran actor Scott Parker, a man she met when she was in seventh grade when he taught juggling at an after-school program.

When she met the other members of the comedy troupe, “it made me feel like I’m going to really be learning something from this,” Kozatch said.

Steamboat audiences have seen Kozatch in several high school productions and, most recently, in Steamboat Community Players’ production of “Cosi,” when she played a sexually frustrated asylum inmate.

At first, Kozatch was visibly intimidated by acting without a script and had a hard time jumping into the improvisation with her own jokes.

“She’s 18, a high school senior, and she’s running with some very experienced performers,” Walter said. “No matter how good you are, that’s going to be hard on you.

“At first, that was knocking her a little bit for a loop, but we kept encouraging her.”

There’s a saying in theater, Walter said, “Dare to suck.”

“The first few times, I was intimidated,” Kozatch admitted. “I was the youngest, and the only person I knew was Scott, but now there is chemistry between the actors.

“I feel more comfortable, and I’m willing to mess up.”

In the past month, the audience and her fellow actors have watched a transformation.

“She’s more confident. She’s quick,” Walter said. “She’s much more willing to take chances on stage. Improv is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets, and she is getting some trigger time.”


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