Imagine yourself on a stage, in front of an expectant crowd. You must act out a scene and — here’s the tough part — make the audience laugh.
Just the idea is enough to make some people nervous enough for a full-on meltdown. Now, take away the plot, the lines and the stage directions. And … action!
Sound like a tall order? Well, juniors Jake Wallach and Clint Cannon, along with a handful of other students, carry it out weekly.
Born in 2009, MU Improv is fairly new to campus (at least, compared to MU’s well known Wednesday night improv show, Comedy Wars). Though both troupes specialize in improvisational theater, the two have a critical difference.
Comedy Wars deals with what is known as “short form” improv, a style characterized by several three- to four-minute long games throughout the show.
MU Improv, on the other hand, embraces “long form” improvisation, which is basically the terrifying scenario from this story’s first paragraph.
MU Improv hosts shows at 9 p.m. every Tuesday night at The Shack in the MU Student Center.
The format of the show is as follows: A team of players, ranging in size anywhere from two people to 10, takes the stage and appeals to their audience for a prompt, often a location or profession.
Then the team begins to make up its lines, surroundings and characters as it goes. Each team has 20 minutes on stage, during which members are charged with creating a complete story with fully-formed characters, all off the tops of their heads and while providing a few laughs along the way.
However daunting the task may seem to most people, the improvers enjoy testing their skills and the liberating prospect of unfettered improv.
“It’s just you for 20 minutes, and you can do whatever you want,” says Wallach, who is involved in both Comedy Wars and MU Improv. “I like that freedom.”
Long form demands a degree of patience from its audience, which is rare in a world where attention spans are short and constant entertainment is expected. However, the improvers don’t let this discourage them.
“In long form you have the time and freedom to really develop relationships,” says Cannon, also of Comedy Wars and MU Improv. “Telling a completed story, like you can do in long form, is a lot more difficult in my opinion, but also incredibly rewarding when it goes well.”
Another aspect that makes MU Improv unique is its open workshops.
On Thursdays, from 7-9 p.m. on the second level of the Student Center, students of all experience levels are invited to take part in improvisation practices hosted by the MU Improv players. They teach basic skills and help students improve.
The best part? After you’ve gone to the workshops for a semester, you can start performing in the Tuesday night shows.
Many students might not be aware of this hidden gem within MU’s theatre culture. The crowds at MU Improv shows are smaller than you’d see at Comedy Wars, but the performances aren’t any less impressive.
Junior Luke Welsh confesses he started out going to support his friends who participated in it, but he continued to go for an entirely separate reason.
“They’re funny, witty and creative,” Welsh says. “Improv is interesting.”
Check out the next MU Improv show at 9 p.m. Feb. 5 in The Shack.