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Comedy on a dime

BY JASMINE PUTNEY | OCTOBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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Opening night. It is generally known among the theater world as a night full of adrenaline, fear, and excitement. Actors, directors, and technical staff have worked together for weeks, practicing to deliver a remarkable performance for the audience. But in the world of improvisational theater, the outcome of the show is unknown both to the audience and the actors, making the event an art of unpredictability.

Tonight at Old Brick, 26 E. Market, three improv troupes will come together for a night of comedy and creativity. The Paperback Rhinos, established in 2003, is now considered the third-best college improv group in the country. The Great White Narcs is a recently formed group that won first place for its submission in Funny or Die University’s Viral Video Competition. The Janice Ian Experience is an all-female troupe beginning to climb in the improv world.

Each performer is drawn to improv for different reasons, from interest in theater to personal escape, said cocaptain of Great White Narcs Jeff Lehman.

“To be honest, I was going through a tough time in my life, and I was starting to lose my interest in writing and other forms of expression when I found the only thing that would make me feel better was comedy,” he said. “I found escape through laughter.”

Improvisation differs from other types of acting. There are no scripts, and there are no prior conceptions about the outcome of the show, making the artform appear to be more erratic than more traditional forms of acting.

However, cocaptain of the Paperback Rhinos Sirena Lindsay believes both forms contain exposure.

“Improv is vulnerable in the same way [as acting] that you are trying to bring emotional and raw depth to characters, but the vulnerability changes when you’re making it up on the spot,” she said. “You’re relying much more on the subconscious to fill the context of who the character is and what the character would do in a given situation.”

Though improv is left open to interpretation by the performer, Lehman said, there are fundamental skills performers need in order to succeed on stage.

“The most important part of improv is listening. You have to hear and understand everything your partner is doing in order to react honestly on stage and support them in the scene,” he said. “Second to listening is accepting, which is to respond positively to everything your partner says on stage so you don’t close off the scene to possibilities. Really, when you’re on stage, it’s 10 times more about your partner than yourself.”

While these skills are essential to the overall success of a performance, each improv troupe uses varying types of techniques and styles in order to establish their own personality and flavor.

“Every improv group is made unique by the particular chemistry among its group members,” Lindsay said. “Every group will have a different character based on the way the personalities all meld together … We all enjoy pushing out personal and collective creativity to see what kinds of new levels of funny we could reach.”

The Janice Ian Experience members have set themselves apart from the mainstream by being the only all-female improv troupe in the area. Member Elena Bruess — a former Daily Iowan reporter — said the women are also strive to develop their own voices by experimenting with distinguishing characteristics in their performances.

“We only do long form,” she said. “Other troupes do long-form as well … but we don’t ever do short-form, which is the games. We always concentrate on doing long-form which is when we spend 30 minutes doing scene after scene after scene.”

Straying from the conventional approach to acting, improv brings the important quality of diversity to the theater. Through improvisation, people can discover the possibilities of a story not yet written.

“Improv is important because it exposes how powerful our brains can be — how quickly it makes patterns and how much it retains,”Lindsay said. “It can also be a great start to the writing process — take an idea and improvise around it. It can help generate a story if you’re stuck and can’t think of anything to write on your own.”

Despite the differences among the three troupes, the goal among the three is to let loose and have fun. Lindsay said she is looking forward to the Iowa City Improv Night to do just that.

“It’s so fun to come together as a community with other teams in the area and share the energy,”she said. “It’s exciting to see how each team has grown and changed since the last time we performed together. A lot of times, we’ll come together as a giant group before the show and warm up together, and it’s cools to see how other teams get ready for shows and learn different games they use. More people equals more laughs and more friends. That’s all a gal really needs.”


COMEDY
Iowa City Improv Night
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Old Brick, 26 E. Market
Admission: Free


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