Mosaic / February 15, 2017

Improv builds confidence with performance

Sophomore Jacob Elliott, freshman Katherine Asteriadou, freshman Joel Willison and sophomore Katrina White play a game called Double Date at Improv practice. (Theresa Murphy/TKS)

Members of the Improv Club walk out into an open space containing just two folding chairs. As they approach the center, one grabs the chair and holds it in a threatening position. The other sits in a childlike manner. Realizing the two had different ideas of the scene they wanted to portray, the members of the club in the audience erupt in laughter. The two performers then adapt and go on with their scene. This is all in preparation to put on a full-audience show.

On Jan. 27, the Improv Club performed their first show of the term entitled “The Last Thin Mint on Earth.” According to club members, the performance had an audience of over 100 people and had an exceptional turnout. This performance showcased the club’s first long form improv game of the year, Goon River.

Senior Trevor Marshall, who is co-president alongside senior Theresa Murphy, feels that the show moved more toward an R- rated theme that appealed to the audience in comparison to past shows that had remained more PG-13.

Like any year, the presidents of Improv Club plan a curriculum to provide members with the basic skills of improvisational performance. According to Marshall, some of these skills include learning to respond with “yes, and” to situations, and listening to what other characters are giving and building off of that. He hopes that the practices help members develop an ability to act without hesitation.

“By the end, nobody’s really thinking anymore,” Marshall said. “We’re all just performing as a cohesive group.”

Ideally, the skills learned during the practices align with the shows so that each show provides an opportunity for members to showcase the new skill. Sophomores Jacob Elliott and Hannah Lee, who are both PR Chairs, felt as though this was the case. Elliott noted that long form games are more complex and take more skill.

Elliott explained that one of the potential obstacles in an Improv performance is experiencing lulls or lack of energy within the performers or the audience. To combat this, performers are responsible for ending a scene when it reaches point of low energy.

“Other improvisers who are not in the scene are in charge of calling ‘scene’ when it’s done,” Elliott said. “So if they’re sensing a lull or anything like that they try to call ‘scene’ as fast as possible.”

Aside from potential lulls in energy, performers are trained to take anything that is thrown at them without hesitation. Marshall said that, because of this, he doesn’t see many mistakes occur throughout the performances.

“The thing about improv is that it’s all one big ‘oops’ moment because you make it all up on the spot,” Marshall said. “Since everything is happening as it’s happening, any mistake just happens and then becomes a good thing in the end.”

He noted that, while other forms of theatre prepare by anticipating and preventing mistakes as well as covering them up when they occur, Improv does not follow the same process. With Improv, preparation comes from letting the mistakes happen, embracing them and making them part of the show.

Marshall feels that the audience plays a large role in Improv Shows, and is one of the most significant causes of success or failure. He explained that the relationship between audience member and performer is unique to Improv Shows.

“Without the audience, it’s just us shouting ideas to each other and then doing scenes on stage,” Marshall said. “The energy we get from the audience is really what fuels us on stage. If they’re not into it, we can’t get into it.”

Along with the energy from the audience, sophomore Jaki Herrmann feels that the performances tend to go more smoothly than practices due to the amount of preparation that goes into shows. She believes that the group avoids repetition by allowing each member to bring something different to each performance.

“Whoever starts the scene is going to have their own idea of how to go about doing the scene.” she said. “And how people build off of that is always different than any previous performance.”

She emphasizes that it is nearly impossible to perform the same show twice in Improv. Even if the group starts with the same suggested idea, the show will vary depending on who sets the tone for the rest of the show.

Since this was Herrmann’s first time performing in one of the shows, she had to overcome nerves and the added pressure of an audience for the first time. To prepare herself mentally, Herrmann attempted to take initiative during the practices in the week before as much as possible and tried to distract herself from the thought of the show during the day.

“I didn’t want to think about the show and get freaked out, Herrmann said. “So I just tried to do everything not related to the show during the day.”

For the next club performance, which will take place in February, Marshall hopes to showcase a complicated long form game called a Harold. The performers take a suggested topic from the audience, and perform a series of scenes and games that start out separately and eventually connect at the end.

“In theory, these three will start off fairly separate and then will slowly start moving together thematically, temporally, or with similar characters as it reaches the end,” he said.

Marshall mentioned that longer games such as the Harold require much more skill and ability to listen than with other games. There are a number of small guidelines governing who is supposed to be in which scenes and how they are all supposed to eventually be connected.

For Elliott, involvement with Improv has helped him in more professional settings, and in having a leadership role as an Orientation Leader this year. He compared the experience of a job interview to improvising a scene without suggestions from the audience members.

Elliott emphasized that those who are interested in Improv but are hesitant to try it out should start coming to practices with a friend, or just to watch. He mentioned that, after observing some of the practices and getting more comfortable with the group, getting up and participating in games is much less intimidating. He encourages students to attend a meeting just to observe before working up the comfort to participate.

Sam Jacobson, Co-Mosaic Editor
Sam Jacobson is a junior majoring in philosophy and potentially minoring in creative writing or psychology. She started volunteer writing during spring term of her freshman year, and worked as a staff writer during her sophomore year.

Tags:  improv Improv Club theatre Trevor Marshall

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