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Q&A with Paperback Rhino improv group

BY DI STAFF | DECEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Daily Iowan sat down with Chloe Metzger of Paperback Rhino, Iowa City's longest-running improvisational group to discuss the group's recent success at the Upper Midwest Regional Champions in Minneapolis last weekend. The team, now ranked 13th in the nation, won the regional title and will advance to the National College Improv Tournament in March 2012. This is the first improv team from the state of Iowa to reach the national-competition level.

Daily Iowan: How long has Paperback Rhino been around the Iowa City area and how has the group changed since it began?

Metzger: The group was founded in 2003. The group has changed a lot since it started — at the beginning, it was a smaller group of around four or five friends who would simply get together and practice short-form improv games, similar to "Whose Line Is It Anyway?." As it has evolved, it has gotten more serious. For the first five or six years, there were just two shows a year, and around 10 to 20 people came to performances. As we got our name out there, we found a home at Public Space One, in the Jefferson Building, and have accumulated a fan base of around 40 to 60 people for our semi-monthly performances.

DI: What are the basics of improvisational acting?

Metzger: There are two different forms, short form and long form. Short form is made up of little games, like what you see on shows like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?." Long form is what people at the Improv Olympics and Second City do. It is essentially creating a play without a script that lasts from 20 minutes to half an hour. The art form we're really trying to perfect is long form.

DI: How would you describe your experience at the regional competition in Minneapolis?

Metzger: It was interesting, because improv is so different, you obviously can't rehearse beforehand. You can have a terrible scene or the best scene of your life. We did not expect to win; it was really a surprise because everyone was so good.

DI: How do you prepare for improv performances?

Metzger: The funniest thing is that people will ask, "Will we see things we have seen before?" Most of us (in Paperback Rhino) have been doing this since high school, and none of us have ever played the same scene more than once. We have practice twice a week, each are two hours. Improv is like a muscle — you just have to work that and strengthen it.

DI: Are there any rules or principles that this free-form style uses?

Metzger: One of the most basic rules is that you don't "deny." Whatever your partner tells you is the truth. As soon as you break that gift that your partner gives you, the audience says, "Oh, they messed up." Another rule is to not ask questions. If you ask someone a question, it puts them on the spot.

And with most questions, you know the answer you're looking for. Basically, nothing is wrong at all, everything is truth in improv.

DI: How does the group plan to improve?

Metzger: Clearly, we as a team are not as good as something you would go see at Second City. A lot of it is how we as performers handle it when things go wrong on stage. You can feel that improve, if something is negated or something is going terribly wrong, if a team can dig out of that hole and give a good performance, it is a good team. Something that puts us ahead of the curve is that we do a long-form style called "The Harold." It is the most difficult long form you can do, and we do that. Not many college teams without coaches do it. So, we do it pretty dang well for people who don't have a coach and are a college team.

DI: What is the group's hope for nations?

Metzger: We're just so proud that we got here, just being considered the top 13. We want to compete at nationals, we don't want to be last place in the performance, because we want to prove that we should be there. At regionals, Jonathan Pitts (creator and producer of the Chicago Improv Festival's College Improv Tournament) told us, "Be the best representation of yourself." You can't control what your partners do, you can't control if you have a bad scene, so just be the best representation of yourself. Of course, we'd like to win — our main goal is to win.

— by Hannah Kramer


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