Allia Mcdowell

Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators: Q & A with Kendall Kotcher

darcieFor an entire semester we have discussed the state of media, what the future looks like, and how an idea can be turned into a money-making reality. The underlying theme throughout it all has been the importance of creativity.

We learn to be creative at a young age, but only some are encouraged to have the confidence to pursue it. Innovation, however, is imperative no matter who you are or what industry you go into. Inspiring an acceptance of bold, new, outrageous ideas is what moves the world forward – and it’s exactly what Kendall Kotcher does every day as the Assistant Creative Director of Brainstormers! The Michigan State grad started as an actor at the company of professional actors/educators/technicians/and media artists and has worked her way up to leadership.

When she isn’t working and performing with the troupe, she is pursuing other passions like running, singing, watching movies, and spending time on the water.

What initially drew you into joining the Brainstormers!?

They posted an audition notice online that they were seeking improv actors who were good with kids — which seemed oh so good since I loved comedy and had been a camp counselor for many years. I went to the audition, which involved some improv games and scenes. After some follow up questions, they hired me on the spot!

Photo provided by Kendall Kotcher

I know you started off as an actor, but can you tell me a little bit more about the specific duties you have within the group?

Since our shows are 3 people, we wear a lot of different hats. The director hat driving the van, giving actors notes, talking to principals, paperwork. The sound hat setting up speakers, running cords, checking levels, microphones, cuing sound effects for skywriter show. The costume hat costuming skywriter shows, setting up hats, wigs, hanging up costumes, sanitizing animal noses. The writers hat writing and editing scripts. And with many hats can come many new problems like learning we can’t load in the gym door because of some cars parked in front of it so thinking quickly and figuring out where else to load in. Multiple hats also mean much room to grow which will allow me to develop skills in all those areas that I can market later.

Have you helped to change anything since you joined the group?

Since I’ve joined I’ve helped develop our online presence and I’m working to further develop their website. Each year we strive to produce a relevant and entertaining show that can be easily transported in a big van. The past few years we’ve been building our film library of shows that we send to clients after we perform the show in case parents want it for keepsake. Having a reserve of filmed shows allows us to train future Brainstormers and see what we can improve on.

Speaking of the shows, what is your favorite moment from working with the Brainstormers!?

My favorite moments are when we bring the student volunteers backstage and the kids tell us how nervous they are — but then as soon as they get on stage they are FEARLESS.

The best part of improv are those magical moments where you can build a story with other people, and when the students aren’t afraid to jump into character and be silly, it warms my heart. Most of the time if we can get the kids to say ONE thing by themselves, we are happy, but if the kids really get into it then we have a great time.

Are there any characters that you particularly enjoy playing?

We get a lot of creative suggestions but my favorite character to play is Grandma. We have an excellent hideous blue floral dress, grey hair wig, and a chunky necklace that I like to throw on. The gravelly grandma voice is my favorite and there’s so many easy jokes you can make like being hard of hearing or seeing or talking about hard candies.

Photo provided by Kendall Kotcher

The kids seem to get a lot out of the shows, and your group has won a ton of awards, from the Governor’s award in Arts and Education to being the most recommended assembly program by the Michigan Principals Association (MEMSPA). What kind of impact do you think your group has on all the kids you work with?

I think our work hits home in a lot of ways. It can help students build confidence, inspire them to write, encourage them to say something about bullies, remind them to believe in themselves, and allow them to be silly with us for an hour out of their routine day. I mean, my favorite thing is inspiring kids. When we arrive at repeat clients in our Brainstormers! Van, the kids see us and wave and yell “Brainstormers!!” like we’re rockstars. I also love how the improv elements are a constant challenge. Since we do so many shows it can be easy to fallback on your habits, but improv won’t let you do that when students throw out crazy suggestions (like a character that’s half taco, half rhino) and you have to figure out how to justify them.

Building on that, what situation has challenged you most since you started with the troupe?

Being a bully [as a character in a show] is always hard. There’s already a filter you need when performing in front of kids, but especiallywhen being a bully. You want to get the point across but don’t want to be super lame. One of the notes I got about my bully character was that my bully was too smart and I had to dumb it down for the sake of the scene.

Photo provided by Kendall Kotcher

Just being in the field of media and arts can be a challenge in itself, how do the Brainstormers! stay competitive and continue to thr

I believe our interactivity with the students and our communication with educators will keep us competitive. No matter how much technology develops, nothing will quite match like having an actor call on you and use your suggestion to build a story. We also have a feedback program and communicate with educators about what curriculums include and what they want from us.

Do you have any hopes for the Brainstormers! in the future?

I’d love to see it expand! I could see it all over the country with different headquarters. Although, I think there’s some value as well in staying local since a lot of our repeating clients will remember our actors and build relationships with us.

You are really inspiring the future of media by encouraging kids to embrace their creativity. What is one thing you would like to leave anyone with who interacts with your troupe?

That we’re all growing. The mistakes we make and the bad grades don’t define us. They just show us what we need to work on. I also hope students are inspired to write their own stories. That writing is something they can work at and enjoy—not something that is just “homework.” That writing can be the stories they tell their parents when they get home from school. It can be a personal narrative they share with their friends about their recent injury. Or it can be a whacky story with all their favorite fictional characters on a planet made of spaghetti.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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