by NORAH WALSH
On Friday, Jan. 20, I had no plans, a desire to see my friends, a cute outfit on and my ever-present need for a good laugh. Fortunately, I had come across an Instagram post from The Undeniably Adjacent, UMW’s improv club, earlier that week, so I sent out a couple texts to see if any of my friends would want to come along or if I’d be forced to sit and giggle by myself in the auditorium in the Monroe basement.
One of my good friends, Jessica Oberlies, responded that she’d be down to come along with me, and we met right inside the doors to Monroe that face the fountain.
As I descended into the Monroe basement, I was unsure of what to expect, as I had only seen a handful of improv shows in middle school when my brother was exploring his acting career. Jess and I made it into the auditorium, found good seats where we would be well positioned to watch the antics on stage and settled in for the ride.
For those of you who have never been to an improv show, it’s a very interactive experience in which the cast members explain the rules and premises of their game and then get suggestions pertaining to a range of topics from the audience members that they’ll then incorporate into the game.
But, what is a game?
In their informative response to my questions about the behind-the-scenes of improv, Gabe Snider, a senior historic preservation major and cast member of The Undeniably Adjacent said, “A ‘game’ in improv is basically a format for a sketch or scene with specific rules. But aside from those rules we have to make up everything on the spot: characters, setting, conflict, anything we act out.”
When I talked to some of the audience members about watching and interacting with The Undeniably Adjacent, they also contributed their favorite games. Charmaine Spencer, a senior biomedical sciences major with a neuroscience minor said that her favorite game was one in which they couldn’t say the letter S.
The S-less scene consisted of two people having a conversation utilizing some of the words they had sourced from the audience. Throughout this conversation bit, they could not say any word with the letter S in it or else they would be eliminated and a new person would replace them.
Jamie Grahek, a freshman business major who attended the show to see her suitemate Laura Connors perform, said, “My favorite part was all the scenes with Laura in it.”
Another one of the games was called Animal Expert, and it started with the cast members suggesting an array of different animals. This was followed by a call for activities that human beings perform, which elicited much funnier and more random suggestions. The process of suggesting is rather chaotic, and it’s an opportunity for the audience members to give the cast members fuel for their comedy.
E Wiley, a junior creative writing major, expressed their affinity for this game in particular, especially since they play the lead role in the game under the name “Brick Brickman.” Their fellow cast member Snider relayed the same sentiments.
“I’d say my favorite part of Friday’s show was our first game, Animal Expert,” Snider said. “It’s usually a fan favorite thanks to E’s recurring character, the exasperated and ethically dubious TV host Brick Brickman.”
When I talked with Elizabeth Ashby, a sophomore psychology and theater double major who is another one of the cast members, I learned that there are two types of improv: long form and short form.
“Short-form improv is sort of like a five-minute game, and a long-form improv usually takes either half of the show or a full show span,” Ashby said.
During Friday’s show, their games were classified as long-form improv, which allowed me and the rest of the audience members to fully immerse ourselves in the games before switching gears to another one.
To prepare for this long-form improv, the cast members rehearse beforehand, which helps them hone the skills that they later use during the show.
“We practice twice weekly around campus, and we basically will run through different exercises to help our quick thinking skills, character building, etc. to prepare us for shows,” said Ricky Muñoz, a senior history and geography double major who is both a cast member and the president of The Undeniably Adjacent.
In addition to rehearsing during the weeks leading up to shows, the cast also has a rehearsal before the show to get them warmed up.
“It’s mostly exercises that get our energy up,” Ashby said. “It’s so hard to go out on a stage and be low energy, because generally you’re gonna get the same thing back from an audience.”
Right before the show, the cast members also refresh themselves on how the show is going to be organized.
“The practice before a show is kind of like a rehearsal because we run the same games that we’re going to perform at the show,” Snider said.
Watching the cast interact and produce such funny scenes together communicated a wonderful sense of community to the audience, and I could really see the passion and interest—not to mention the level of genuine fun that they were having—during the show.
Because of this, I wanted to know how being part of The Undeniably Adjacent positively influenced the cast members—either during the shows or in their lives in general.
In true comedic fashion, Wiley described the most unexpected outcome of being part of the club with a joke. Wiley said, “Probably the news helicopters that follow us all constantly. And the emails from Lorne Michaels to host SNL.”
In a more realistic sense, some of the cast members recognized how what they rehearsed had an influence on their life.
“I truly didn’t expect how useful improvisational skills would be in my day-to-day life,” said Muñoz. “Doing improv really helps sharpen your brain, and helps you think quicker in all kinds of situations.”
Both from watching the show and from interacting with the performers, you can tell how much pride they have in their club and in each other.
“If anyone ever sees me and does talk to me about something they liked about the show, doesn’t even have to be something I did, I will thank them with every fiber of my being for supporting something so ridiculous,” said Wiley.
As a fan of the ridiculous—especially when it’s done well—I had a wonderful Friday night thanks to The Undeniably Adjacent, and I am so grateful to them for making time for me to pry into their tips, tricks and connections to improv.
To experience the comedy, ridiculousness and talent of The Undeniably Adjacent, you can catch them again on Friday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Digital Auditorium found on the bottom floor of the Hurley Convergence Center.