Published November 9, 2018
Nick Kagelmacher hears a knock at his door, and welcomes his party guest.
“Hello! So excited to be here — I believe the last time I was at a party was four score and seven years ago,” says Kara Phillips as she tips her top hat like Abraham Lincoln.
From a corner of the stage, Khoi Bhui releases a tremendous burp. “You’ll have to excuse me,” he says. “I’m experiencing some pretty gnarly heartburn.” He clutches his chest and blows his fiery breath like a dragon.
As this scene unfolded recently in the Student Union Theater, there were no props, no costumes, no set. Not even a script.
This is just a glimpse into one of the wild and wacky workshops of UB’s Improv Club. This particular exercise is called Party Quirks. The party host, Kagelmacher, is unaware of the characters his party guests, Phillips and Bhui, are playing. He must use their clues and lines throughout the scene to guess who or what they are.
Whether you’re Abe Lincoln at a 21st-century house party, or a fire-breathing dragon in need of antacids, UB’s Improv Club provides students with the most exotic scene topics with which to explore their humor.
“We always tell our members to let loose, get relaxed and have fun,” says Davay Henry, president of the UB Improv Club. “We emphasize learning the structure of improv while also teaching our members how to be quick with witty remarks.”
There are three troupes within the club — Alcoholics Infamous, Home ‘Improv’ment and Orphans with Daddy Issues. Henry describes the club as one big family, with more than 40 current members.
As the workshop begins, the entire UB Improv Club jumps on stage. Club members’ faces look bubbly and vibrant. They are eager to start practicing their comedy.
Every workshop starts off with a fast warmup. Once they gather in a big circle, members shake their arms and legs to an enthusiastic countdown from the whole crew. The members chant in rhythm and speed up as they count down: “Five, four, three, two, one. Five, four, three, two, one. Four, three, two, one. Four, three, two, one. Three, two, one! Three, two, one! Two, one! Two, one! One! One!”
Once the warmups are over, improv exercises begin. Exercises such as, “What Are You Doing?” and “New Choice” grab the attention of members looking to practice their characters, build relationships and set the scenes’ environment.
Two long lines of members on either side of the theater slowly wait their turn to hop up to the next person on stage and ask, “What are you doing?”
As “What Are You Doing?” begins, James Bilello, vice president of UB Improv Club, acts out a gardening scene by himself on stage. He kneels to the ground while humming, and starts to dig a hole in the dirt. Tom Kowaiski runs up to him, almost out of breath, and asks, “What are you doing?”
Bilello stops in his tracks, looking up at Kowaiski.
“I’m performing open-heart surgery,” he says.
Quickly, Bilello leaves the stage, and Kowaiski starts to perform open-heart surgery. He puts an imaginary medical mask on his face, grabs his imaginary instruments and delves into what he wants his audience to imagine as a patient’s chest, all the time wearing a confused look on his face.
“Whoops — that shouldn’t be in there,” says Kowaiski, and the whole crew lets out a big laugh.
Lively scenes such as these set the tone for the rest of the workshop. Along with improvising, the leaders of the club give members advice and tips to improve their improv abilities.
Henry explains how improv is a useful life skill that makes you witty, better at presentations and better at handling uncomfortable situations.
“Improv can help you improve your acting skills, and also help you in everyday situations,” he says. “Expecting the unexpected prepares you for whatever life throws at you.”
This might explain why Harvard Business School requires its students to take an improv class, Henry notes.
The UB Improv Club works with three important rules:
Rule No. 1 of improv is you should always agree with the situation the other improviser has set up. You must never shut down a line. By doing this, you build on the scene. “Whenever someone says a line to you on stage,” Henry says, “use a reaction such as, ‘yes, and…’ to continue the scene.”
Keep an open mind on this, for just a moment. Rule No. 2 of improv is never turn your back to the audience. During an exercise, Kowaiski had his back to the stage during a cop scene when the whole club disrupts him to teasingly yell in unison, (Here we go again) “No asses to the audience!”
This isn’t Carrot Top Hour. Rule No. 3 of improv is no props. Improv is random and fast, so you never know what a scene might need. That means having a set of perfect goofy props on hand is unlikely.
The UB Improv Club explores many forms of improvisational theater, providing an open and creative environment for fellow students to foster a sense of fun comedy in their members and audiences.
Workshops are held from 7-9 p.m. Mondays in the Student Union Theater on the North Campus. During these practices, anyone can get up on stage and try improv with the club. The club’s next show is 7 p.m. Nov. 9 in 112 Norton, North Campus. Shows are every other Friday, with free admission and free pizza. Auditions for the Friday performances are held at the beginning of each semester.
The UB Improv Club also takes part in annual College Improv competitions in Rochester. All three troupes perform on stage and share their contagious energy with like-minded individuals.
The club also hosted a Murder Mystery Dinner fundraiser last week. Ten UB Improv Club members acted as characters throughout the dinner. Audience members ate with the characters, and during the dinner one of the characters mysteriously died. It was up to the audience to figure out the identity of the murderer.
“This is an open, non-judgmental zone where anyone can try out things they’re uncomfortable with, like new accents or funny characters,” Bilello says of the improv group. “Come try improv, and come have fun!”
For more information about the UB Improv Club, and contact information for the club’s leaders, check out the UB Improv Club website.