Improv team prepares for show, welcomes new members

Improv is a type of theater that’s spontaneous and in the moment, as actors put on a different show each time they perform. Simply put, improv is thinking on your feet.

“The difference between improv and a show, musical, or play that [Westview Theatre Company] is putting on is that [other shows] need structure,” Allison Dahl (12), co-captain of the improv team, said. “With Improv, rehearsals are going off of what we do [in the moment]. Instead of having a strict structure, we just see how things go.”

According to Dahl, during the teams’ rehearsals they play game upon game which are chosen by the co-captains and force the actors to make up a story as it progresses.

As co-captains of the team, Dahl, who has been on the team since her sophomore year, and Lisa Arseneau (12), who has been involved since her freshman year,  have taken on immense responsibility.

The team has a professional advisor who simply helps out from time to time during rehearsals, leaving Dahl and Arseneau in control of how they want to run the team. They are in charge of nearly everything from running auditions, to choosing new members and planning rehearsals.

Team captains change each year, and are chosen by currents captains for the upcoming year based on skill and improvement.

With each change in leadership comes a different team dynamic.

“One of the big things that changes [as captains change] is the effects that leadership style has on how we run practices and shows [and] what type of humor is instilled.” Dahl said.

According to Arseneau, she and Dahl are striving to put a greater emphasis on the teamwork aspect of improv by engaging in more games and using the resulting bond the group develops to improve their performances during practices.

The teamwork aspect of improv is so crucial that during auditions, the co-captains look for “how [applicants] work with other people, the dynamic they have, and whether or not they accept the inputs that others put into a scene.” Dahl said. “We want someone who is gonna be supportive of other people and someone who has high energy.”

In order to prepare for the seemingly unpreparable, the group engages in various games and drills, all of which require interaction and trust.

A lot of these games require the actors to be completely in the moment, reflecting the very nature of improv, which is so fast-paced that most of the time actors aren’t able to plan out every detail of their performance.

Each improv performer has their own way of working to prepare themselves for this challenge; for Arseneau, it helps to not think about acting a certain way to stay in character,  as that would invoke a sense of trying to control the way a scene goes. The performer must learn to go with the flow.

“That’s the thing about improv: It is funny but you can’t try and make it funny,”  Arseneau said. “If you try, it’s never gonna work out; the comedy comes from the realness of it, the real life aspect of what’s going on.”

Dahl, on the other hand, tries to balance her thoughts during shows.

According to Dahl, finding that balance between listening to what her teammates are contributing to the scene and trying to figure out what she is going to do helps her stay true to her character. In addition , she focuses on how she can build her character in a way that contrasts with the others in the scene to engage the audience.

Relationship, location, and conflict are the three main criteria that each improv performer must address in order to carry out a successful show.

The improv team uses something called the “six month rule,” which requires the characters in a scene to have known each other for six months, to assure that they maintain interesting on-stage relationships.

In terms of location, both Arseneau and Dahl agree that the more absurd the setting is, the better. Rehearsal games have been set in locations from the inside of a cucumber to Mars. As far as conflict goes, most of the time, all it takes to introduce a compelling conflict is focusing in on a specific moment which leaves the audience in awe.

“Improv is just zooming in on a moment and starting right from there,” Arseneau said. “You have to act as if this has been going on for a long time, that [you’re] actually in this moment right now and you need to show people what’s going on.”

The more experienced improv actors help the new ones adapt to this style of thinking and lead by example.  With their first show of the year coming up tomorrow, both Dahl and Arseneau are excited to see what the new recruits bring to the team.

“We have a lot of new people so I’m excited to see what kind of energy they bring to the stage,” Dahl said.  “[There are] a lot of creative people and I really enjoy having such an outgoing team.”

In the end, according to Dahl, each member brings their own unique sense of humor and creative style to the team that makes for a diverse group of actors.

“In improv, it’s important to have a broad mix of people, and although we do have some people who have been in shows before, some are from the sports side of campus or the ASB side of campus,” Dahl said. “I think it’s really important to get all those perspectives in there because what you get is different levels of energy from people in a scene.”