Sitting in the front row of a mildly-packed Fred Theatre, right across from the Child Development Center and Holt Hall, I listen as upbeat song after another blasts through the sound system, getting us all pumped for what is sure to be a rebel-rousing performance. The word “Expectation” is written on the dry-erase board in front of the stage. Suddenly, the lights go out and that’s when I know: The show is about to begin.
Rollins Improv Players (aka RIP) is the college’s premier improv troupe on campus. In charge is Dr. David Charles (aka Dr. D), Artistic Director of RIP and Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance at Rollins. With Assistant Artistic Directors Alexa Gordon ’13 and Alexis Riley ’13, as well as 12 other talented improvisers, Rollins Improv Players has become a main stay at the college, introducing countless numbers of students each year to the art of improvisational theater.
When most people think of an improv show, their mind most probably darts to images of Drew Carey or Wayne Brady acting out skits on Whose Line is it Anyway? To be fair, that’s the extent of most people’s knowledge on improv…which is still quite amazing considering the show has been cancelled since 2007. If anything, people know that improv is something that’s done on the spot, with the audience’s suggestion, and acted out in a hilarious manner. And to some extent, they are right…but there is far much more to improvisational theater than that.
Yes, nothing is staged or planned ahead of time. The actors have no lines they have memorized, and the scenes that they are about to perform are completely unique and have never been done before. But there is a certain structure and set of rules that must be followed, for the benefit of both the actors and the improvisers. These “games,” as they are more commonly referred to, turn suggestions such as “surprise,” “Charles Dickens,” and “Abercrombie & Fitch” into a roughly hour-long scene full of snickers, stories, substance.
Last Friday’s show was a Variation On A Theme (VOAT), with the theme being “Expectation.” Dr. D began the show asking for suggestions on certain aspects of said theme: What first jumps to mind when you thing of the word? What’s the opposite of the word? What are people or places that make you think of said word? All the while, these suggestions would be written around the word “Expectation.” Then, as the suggestions would come to a close, the improvisers waited as one in the middle would come out and thank the audience for being present, and then says “That reminds me of the time…”
“That reminds of the time…” launches into a litany of stories told by each individual improviser stepping out of the semi-circle now formed, talking about a time that they remember relating to the theme. Stories start off innocently enough; Michael Gallace ’13 begins to recount a time when he was fishing in a kayak, when all of a sudden improviser Alexandra Feliciano ’15 taps him on the shoulder, causing him to trail off and walk back in the semi-circle while she discusses the time she got called up to the principal’s office. Then Katherine Waddell ’15 stops her in the middle of her recounting her fright at the prospect of getting in trouble, wherein she begins to discuss an interesting experience at a “redneck zoo.” This goes on for a while until each improviser begins a story, slowly beginning to rush different aspects of the stage, continuing them all at once, crescendoing into what can best be described as a cacophony of memory. All of a sudden, a clap – a lone voice: “That reminds me of the time.” Together…”That reminds me of the time.” Then, that lone voice speaks again: “That reminds me of the time Katherine went to the redneck zoo.”
For the next 50 minutes, stories recounted moments before are acted, some with comedy, others with drama, but all based on the nexus of truth. Ryan Lambert’s ’13 portrayal of newly shamed Lance Armstrong teaching young child Gallace how to learn to ride a bike is later revisited as young man Gallace turning into a future doper himself is a comedic, yet poignant reflections on our society and the ability of improv to exam great facets of our lives. Or the conflict of a brother Zach Zebrowski ‘15 and sister Olivia Matthews ’15 being jealous of one an others abilities, wishing they could change their roles in life, while still maintaining the respect of their father.
By the end, the improviser’s end the show again talking of a time that they are reminded of, only this time they speak in the prospective of their characters actions: Going to the redneck zoo, finding someone to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and being okay with someone else getting the guy you wanted. They again all stop and chime at once: “That reminds me of the time.” And as the lights go up and I begin to truly digest the show that I was just shown, I feel both honored and entertained, knowing that I just witnessed something no one would ever see again. That, my friends, is the beauty of improv.