Look around campus for details for Yodapez’s last performance of the semester next Wednesday; Photo courtesy of Sarah Gamblin '17
Look around campus for details for Yodapez’s last performance of the semester next Wednesday; Photo courtesy of Sarah Gamblin '17

What’s improv, anyway?

By Zac Ball ’20

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Improvisation takes many forms on and off stage. From the get go, the vibe at an improv show is different from other types of comedy. A huge part of improv is audience participation, so when you step out on stage there is no disconnect between your performance and what the audience wants to see. 

Hamilton’s improv group, Yodapez, has very intimate shows that give the audience incentive to participate. Of my two shows this semester with Yodapez, our themes have been a Valentine’s Day show and a “Fancy Pants” show. A lot of conversation at practice goes into the themes so that we can attract an audience that really wants to see improv take form on stage.

In the lineup of a show, there will typically be several different games. A few short games are rapid fire based on one word suggestions from the audience that have to do with a relationship, a place or an object. These are followed by a long form game that can last for about ten minutes, which can be taken from one word suggestions and is divided into several scenes that may or may not have anything to do with the others. Words that have been thrown out at shows that I have been in include: moon (place), teacher/student (relationship) and plunger (object); the difficulty then, is just jumping into a scene and making these suggestions into engaging, humorous scenes. Suggestions are not the only way for the audience to participate, though. 

Throughout a performance, the audience forms a relationship with jokes and characters that come up; during that relationship, the audience members are let in on a joke. This is the game of a scene–there is a general trend of humor or a bit that reoccurs throughout that informs the audiences and keeps them invested in the show. That the performers know as much about the scene as the people watching seems to be the most special aspect of an improvised performance because there is a shared state of uncertainty.

Of course, this leads to a certain feeling of anticipation for both performer and spectator in that it is like having a real life conversation. Because this is the case, as a performer, it is essential to think quickly. Sometimes improv is not what you expect as a performer because it is not effective to force out a joke. There must be a balance of humor and genuine conversation that the audience may or may not find hysterical. In this way, there can be a disconnect between what the performers deliver as funny and what the audience receives as funny. 

For me, the best moments with Yodapez have been when I am surprised by the audience’s reaction during a scene and have to pause for their laughter to dwindle before continuing a scene. This adds a layer of excitement to a performance because the dynamic rests so heavily with the audience. 

Improvising is really a team effort in that improvisers must trust the people they are performing with, and they must trust the audience. Yodapez is a great group because we spend time together at rehearsal and outside of improv so that we can work more dynamically with each other on stage. It is important to note that audiences vary, and so do moods, but it is also important to stay out of your head and in the scene. 

Improvising can take so many forms and it does not only happen on stage. People improvise constantly in daily interactions; making those daily interactions funny is what makes improv a performance. This is why improv is so important, for it helps audiences see the humor in mundane relationships, places and objects that they suggest. 

If you want to see improv in action, come see Yodapez’s next performance on Wednesday, April 26 around sunset at the KTSA amphitheater (rain location is to be determined)! Look for posters in Commons and McEwen. 

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