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On-campus improv groups adjust to performing virtually


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Freshman Allyson Emmert and the rest of her improv troupe show off their blue After Hours t-shirts to attendees at their virtual show on Friday, March 26th.

When COVID-19 health and safety guidelines were first put into place, performers everywhere had to put their passions on hold. 

Three groups on campus, Hypothetical Fistfight, Trap Door and After Hours Improv, didn’t know what was going to happen. Now, they're overcoming the barriers COVID-19 has put in front of them by doing what they do best: improvising.

Instead of taking the stage, improv performers in Hypothetical Fistfight and After Hours Improv now open their laptops and put on a show from the safety of their living rooms. 

“We perform on Zoom on separate computers, like Brady Bunch style,” said senior Sydney Hutchison, the co-director of Hypothetical Fistfight. “Then, we have the audience members come in and they hang out in the Zoom with their cameras and mics off.” 

All of the improv groups have found that one of the biggest obstacles still standing in their way is the barrier between the performers and the viewers. 

“When we transferred over to online stuff, just out of habit I would be waiting for laughs or I'd be waiting for reactions,” said senior Erica Peterson, the vice president of After Hours improv. “When we do practices online, for those people who are not in the game, they turn off their mics and they turn off their cameras, so we can't hear or see them. I miss the reactions. I miss the laughter.” 

Hutchison said that about half of an improv performance relies on the audience.

“It was hard at first to think about how to get the audience involved,” Hutchison said. “But we started encouraging people to type whatever they want in the chat the whole time.”

Thomas Wall, a sophomore from Canton, portrays the character "Paul Pencils" during Question This, an improv game loosely based off of Jeopardy.

Senior Justin Gray directsAfter Hours Improv. His group made the decision to practice and perform virtually to minimize the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Improv groups like Gray's perform games that require suggestions from the audience. He said the games create narratives for the scene without limiting the actors.

“For example, we have a game called 'Kenny,'” Gray explains. “The rules for that game is that there are three people, two of whom are hosting a party, and then the other person is Kenny. Kenny is an awful party guest. They have three quirks that are triggered throughout the scene, and the goal is to get Kenny out of the party as quickly as possible.”

Trap Door has had the benefit of rehearsing and performing in the same space while remaining masked up and socially distanced. 

“There are certain games we can't play because there will be too many people on stage at the same time,” junior Grace Krick said. “I think the part that sucks the most is not being able to tap someone on the shoulder, shake their hand, or do anything like that with them. It's just all just pretending to interact with your environment, so it just feels very hollow right now.” 

Even though all of Trap Door Improv performs from the same location, they have also had to endure some technical difficulties while live-streaming their shows to the audience.

“Our first show that we streamed was back in October, and about halfway through the show, our camera died,” Krick said. “The person who was recording us had to record the rest of the show using a phone and didn't have a tripod anymore.”

Many things can go wrong during a virtual set. However, improv groups have found some pleasant surprises about live-streaming their performances. 

“I think now more than ever, we're also laughing at ourselves from the sidelines,” junior Brody Gibas said. “So you can still get that we're not just going through the motions. We're also enjoying what we're doing.” 

Though a lot has changed, improv groups still act as an outlet for performers to make friends and foster creative energy.

“Yes, I miss the applause, I miss the audience's reactions to jokes and everything like that, but that's not really why I did improv,” Gray said. “I do improv because it's fun and I like making people laugh. So as long as I feel like I'm doing that, that's okay.” 

Hypothetical Fistfight's next virtual show is tomorrow April 16 at 7 p.m. After Hours has its next virtual show on Friday, April 23 at 7 p.m. 

Trap Door Improv's next virtual show is on May 1 at 8 p.m. Trap Door will also be doing their first live performance in over a year on April 24 at Highland Blush Cafe in Alma. 

For more information and updates, you can follow the improv groups on Facebook and Instagram. 

Hypothetical Fistfight

https://www.facebook.com/hypefightcmich 

https://www.instagram.com/hypefightcmich/

Trap Door 

https://www.facebook.com/CMUTrapDoorImprov 

https://www.instagram.com/cmutrapdoorimprov/

After Hours

https://www.facebook.com/afterhoursimprov 

https://www.instagram.com/afterhourscmich/

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