Fifteen members of campus improv group Scared Scriptless took to the stage on April 12 for the org’s most recent show. The group’s performance, titled “Revenge of the Script,” was unlike their usual fare. Continue reading “The force strong with improv show”
On Saturday, Oct. 24, the Ytterboe lounge was filled with magic, muggles and – not surprisingly – laughs, as Scared Scriptless held their fourth annual Harry Potter-themed improv show.
The show had the performers split up into four groups based on the different Hogwarts houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and, my personal favorite, Hufflepuff. These houses then competed against each other in a variety of different improv games and challenges in a competition to decide which house was the best.
The show, however, was surprisingly not completely centered around Harry Potter. Aside from the house divisions and a few sparse references, improvisers focused more on making quality scenes rather than stubborn, forced adherence to the show’s theme. This decision helped to showcase the true ability each of the performing Scared Scriptless members.
There was a certain depth found in each scene, and at no moment did it seem the show was going to have an awkward “what do I say?” moment. Each skit was ingenious and hilarious at the same time.
From a game of “Oscar-Winning Moment,” where restaurateurs conspired to steal a crabman’s legs, to another game in which improvisers took on silly characterizations to retell popular fairytales, each actor was able to quickly continue the skit and add humor to it.
Being my first Scared Scriptless show, I found that the show found a good balance of bathroom humor while also still being unique and hilarious in each skit. For an improv show, it felt surprisingly calculated, with swear words only being used at appropriate moments, and no one ever just swearing for no reason.
The introductory skit, “What You Got?” – featuring a rap battle-esque showdown between Gryffindor and Slytherin – was one of the few to include many Harry Potter references. Harry Potter proved itself to be a fitting theme for improv, due to its widespread relatability; all audience members could understand references made to the popular series.
The show also used audience suggestions as the basis for many of the improv skits, allowing the audience to interact and influence the direction of the scene. Every improv game was different, and each was as enjoyable as the last.
While not a norm in the standard Harry Potter canon, Slytherin was declared the winner of the night after team member Josh Horst ’19 showed no hesitation to drop and complete 50 consecutive push-ups when prompted by his fellow improvisers. Horst completed his exercise swiftly, pausing only for a brief second to give the audience a wink before his final push-up. Horst’s completion of the set was met with uprorious applause.
This was just the second of four intended Scared Scriptless shows this semester. Shows are announced on the Scared Scriptless’ Facebook page. I recommend checking them out if you are seeking a good laugh from chaotic acting.
On Friday, Oct. 16, Haugen Theater filled with students coming to see Between the Lines, a half-improvised, half-scripted collaboration between the recently formed student theater group, Myswyken Salad Theatre Company and West End Improv, a group that branched off of Scared Scriptless. As one might guess from such a combination, hilarity ensued.
Last spring, as West End Improv began planning for this fall, they recalled a successful show from 2012 known as In Between Lines. Sponsored by Deep End, the show had actors memorize the lines of a scene and perform it with a simple set and in costume. The twist was that an improviser, who did not know who they had been paired with or what scene they were walking into, would walk onto the stage in their normal clothes and have to react and build a scene with the actor. Though adored by fans, the show was not repeated, which senior members of West End Improv wanted to change.
Enter Myswyken Salad Theatre Company. With plans for the future fairly open, the group agreed to West End Improv’s proposal to collaborate for Between the Lines, named Bess Clement ’18 the director and left the planning for the fall.
In response to a lack of available royalty-free scripts, Myswkyen turned to the classical plays of Henrik Ibsen, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and an anonymously written one-act from the public domain. Selected by Clement, the scripts were only dispersed amongst the five Myswyken members acting in the event.
“All I knew was that we had to prep something [to respond to] Shakespeare, so we all did a practice of only Shakespeare” Preston West ’16 of West End said.
From the actors’ perspective, the challenge was welcome. Ian Sutherland ’18, who played Petruchio from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, had played Petruchio before and found the characterization easy.
However, the actors found the dialogue tricky.
“The hardest part was memorizing only half a script without the reactionary bits, because my lines are all wordplay and reactionary bits,” Sutherland said.
Given that their lines still had to help create a scene, Clement advised the actors that if reacting genuinely forced them outside of their lines, they should stay in character and not let on they had deviated from the script.
For their part, the improvisers of West End were feeling nervous.
“It was terrifying, going on stage. The weirdest thing is that you get a suggestion, a single word, and you just have to make a decision,” Christian Conway ’18 said.
Alison Lonigro ’16 further explained the imbalance.
“One of the harder things is that when you do a regular improv scene, you know whoever is on stage will be supporting you, but here, when you’re on stage, they are not supporting you back. So don’t ask them a question, because they won’t answer it.”
All nerves aside, the show went on, full of genius moments of improvisation to fit the scripts.
Christian Conway ’18 marked himself a maid and originally planned to complain about taking care of the character played by Matt Stai ’18. Conway then found himself already engaged to Earnest and flipped his character to unapologetically flaunt a bigger engagement ring and taunt Stai with the prospect of waking up to the view of a bog every morning.
Lonigro entered the scene expecting to tutor Sutherland in English but was harassed instead with his Shakespearean attempts to tame her, whose irony was accentuated as she tried to figure out what part of English he needed tutoring in.
And finally, Chaz Mayo ’18 and Madeline Burbank ’16 shared a scene that “would have been so beautiful of them as a couple, but then he ended up being her dad, so that got awkward,” Clement said.
The improvisers asserted that the best way to combat errors was to establish a relationship with their scene partner and enjoy where things went from there.
“It was a good experience in that it opened up a lot of opportunities where we have two realms we have created, coming together, and starting conversations about what else can we combine, what else we can smash together,” Sutherland said, “I know a lot of us backstage said ‘let’s do this again’. I talked to Deep End about a collaboration, we talked to other improv groups about collaboration, we talked about the full Shakespearean version of this. And that wouldn’t happen after just theater or just improv shows: you need both to find all the possibilities.”
Both groups have upcoming performances. Myswyken will be performing Oedipus Rekt, written by Mayo, Dec. 11-12. West End Improv will announce future shows on its Facebook page.
On Friday, March 6, Scared Scriptless, the largest improv group on campus, held its first show of the semester. Entitled “March Improv Madness,” the show featured a game called “Montage” being played three times. The game worked by having small groups stay on stage for approximately 15 minutes and performing a variety of bits that may or may not have had a continuity within themselves.
Rather than the usual method of audience-suggestion traditionally practiced at improv shows, the performers instead gave each other inspiration before their games. The first two groups prepped through “setting the scene,” taking turns describing objects in the world of their upcoming scene. These descriptions were not firm rules, but instead suggestions for the scene that could be used in some bits, but not necessarily in all. The third group began with a set of “rants and raves” where each performer gave a brief monologue on the topic of his or her choice. These two methods of preparation benefitted the performances in varying ways. “Setting the scene” created a physical world for the performers to create whatever they chose within. Conversely, “rants and raves” introduced the concepts to be used in the scene. The performers then createad worlds based around those concepts.
The extended duration of these “Montage” games classify them as long-form improv, as opposed to brief skits, or short-form. Although Scared Scriptless has in the past been known to perform mostly short-form improv, this was its third show in a row that focused around long-form, indicating a shift in the direction of the group. This change of focus could be in response to the several offshoot groups within Scriptless that have emerged this year. All of these groups, generally featuring prominent members of Scriptless, have all had a long-form focus as well. It was shortly after the first show by offshoot-group West End Improv that the parent organization, Scared Scriptless, began to favor long-form.
The show took place in the Pause in front of a large crowd that nearly filled the available seating. High attendance has not been uncommon for Scriptless shows: the group had to turn people away at the doors when they exceeded the capacity of Haugen Theater earlier this year. In fact, it was because of this high demand that the group began to perform in larger venues like the Pause. While the increase in space has been convenient in allowing bigger audiences, it has not come without cost. At times, the performers did not project enough and were difficult to hear, especially over the roaring laughter of a previous joke.
That being said, the larger venue has benefitted performances as the improvers were free to move about the stage, no longer having to narrowly avoid trampling the unlucky souls in the first row. Overall, this show was one of the most well organized and well received shows that Scared Scriptless has had this year, and was a great beginning to its second semester season.
Leaders of Scared Scriptless have promised additional shows coming this semester, but dates have yet to be announced.
Photo Credit: ESSAM BUBAKER/MANITOU MESSENGER
Improvisational comedy is becoming one of St. Olaf’s hottest commodities, as packed houses at this year’s Scared Scriptless shows can attest. So when posters appeared around campus advertising the debut of West End Improv, students were understandably excited and filled the Hoyme Upper Lounge to capacity on Nov. 21.
The format of the show was a family dinner lasting about half an hour. Each improviser Denzel Belin ’15, Preston West ’16, Allison Lonigro ’16, Tom Reuter ’17, Liam Gibb ’17, Swannie Willstein ’18 and Christian Conway ’18 had a secret none of the other family members knew, from an affair with Bill Clinton to theft from charity. The combination of familial chaos and these secrets was employed to great comedic effect and elicited plenty of laughter throughout the show.
Those who attended West End’s opening show noticed that the format was very different from Scared Scriptless shows. That is because the two groups perform different styles of comedy. Scared Scriptless uses “short form improv,” which involves three- to five-minute games and short sketches, while West End uses “long form,” in which there is one premise for the entire show. This form relies on improvisers to create the scene and the humor on their own. For the improvisers, it is a good way to work with a set group and learn each person’s individual style.
West End was formed by Belin after a conversation with Lonigro.
“I did some long form one or two years ago and wasn’t getting enough of it in my life,” said Belin. “I was like, ‘What happened to the other two long form groups?’ and then thought, ‘I bet I could do that. Who would I want to work with?'”
“It was remarkably easy to gather the group,” Lonigro said.
As for the name “West End Improv,” it was a group decision made after a long night of brainstorming. Many other group names were rejected, from P-SPLAT to West Side Booty, but the group settled on West End for four reasons: all the players live on the west side of campus, it sounds classy, it is an homage to the West End theater district of London and it is also a hint at Preston West’s rear end.
It is clear from talking to the improvisers and watching them perform that the camaraderie and cooperation of the group is remarkable, with everyone pitching in for the benefit of the group. Belin, a self-described “big idea person,” delegates smaller details, such as social media, to the rest of the group.
In addition, they each bring a unique style of comedy to the table that the other improvisers can build upon, from Conway’s over-the-top matriarchs, to Willstein’s Russian and German accents, to Reuter’s taciturn and physical characters to Gibb’s clever and wordy quips.
“It’s very rewarding. We can feel comfortable enough to introduce aliens because we trust in ourselves,” Belin said.
The one rule of improve is that the improvisers must do whatever they can to further a scene with their scene partners, and be open to anything in order to do so.
“Cthulu might make an appearance and we would all go ‘yes, and,'” Belin said.
“No matter how much our voices tremble, we always say ‘yes, and,'” Gibb added.
If you are interested in watching West End perform, you might have to be patient. The group has no plans for a show the rest of the semester or over Interim, but wants to perform lots of shows second semester featuring all sorts of new improv games they are excited to try.
Keep your ears open; when West End announces its next show you will have to get there early because you are not going to want to miss it.