What do dining hall food, new academic challenges, roommate problems and communal bathrooms all have in common? They are all things that first-years commonly experience — and they are all topics that are covered during a typical Rollins Improv Players ImprOvientation show.
ImprOvientation is a series of improvised shows performed in the Fred Stone Theatre by Rollins Improv Players (RIP), Rollins’ improvisational theater troupe, as a part of fall orientation for the incoming first-year class. The goal of these shows, which generally focus on experiences common to first-time college students such as communal living, is to help alleviate first-year anxiety about entering college by showing that many concerns they may have are a common experience.
According to Dr. David Charles, Rollins theater professor, improv performer and artistic director of RIP (and known affectionately as “Dr. D.” to his students), ImprOvientation is designed to “create a playful space in which students can see their own concerns and feelings performed by their peers in a way that unites the entering class.”
“We hope that our improvisational show can, in some small way, alleviate these stresses by revealing that many first-year students wrestle with these same issues. There also can be a bit of an information overload during the orientation program, and our program offers an interactive and entertaining way of engaging the new members of our Rollins family,” says Dr. Charles.
One way in which ImprOvientation seeks to address the specific needs of the first-year class is by allowing the audience itself to decide what each show should be about.
Since all shows are entirely improvised and open to audience participation, members of the audience have an unusual amount of control over the topics explored during the shows. Before the beginning of each show, audience members are asked to volunteer a word or phrase that illustrates a facet of college life that they would like to see acted out on the stage.
These suggestions can be as general as “family” or as specific as “campus center pizza.” RIP troupe members then write these phrases down on a dry-erase board at the back of the stage, where it serves to inspire the actions of the players during the show.
“What’s cool about the shows is that they vary based on who’s in the audience. It’s their stories that we’re seeking to explore,” says RIP member Alexis Riley ’13.
RIP views audience participation as integral to its performances; however, when asked about her opinion of ImprOvientation, Sarah Lieber ’15 thought that the use of audience suggestions gave the players too much of an opportunity to decide in advance what the shows would be about, saying, “It was really funny but I was kind of annoyed that they kind of rehearsed part of it. Improv needs to be straight improv.” On the other hand, Austin Meehan ’15, said of ImprOvientation, “I liked it … it showed the funnier side of college and the serious stuff. It was a nice way to end orientation on a high note.”
This fall marks ImprOvientation’s seventh year of performances, having first been presented by RIP in the fall of 2005. Over the years, RIP has partnered with such campus organizations as Explorations, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and the Department of Theatre and Dance in order to make ImprOvientation a reality. Improv theater was added to the series of activities that make up orientation in order to “serve the greater campus community,” says Dr. Charles.
Perhaps the ultimate goal of ImprOvientation is to make first-years feel more connected with the Rollins community as a whole. Says Riley, “We explore each other’s stories, despite any kind of personal, philosophical or cultural differences.
When you put stories on stage and just play together, you start to find that these things don’t seem to matter so much. You find things you can relate to. That’s a great way to start opening dialogue. And just going out and having fun is great in and of itself.”