April 4 2014 – Work in Progress Improv Show
Work in Progress Improv Show
Saturday nights just got a little more humorous at Rochester Institute of Technology, as the campus’ new improv team, “Work In Progress,” débuted their first show of the semester. The show was entitled “Loading…” as a cheeky reference to their honest and blunt team name. “Work in Progress” is a completely student-run organization, but you wouldn’t guess it by how professionally they conducted themselves. The event was held in the Webb auditorium at R.I.T. , which is a 180 degree, stadium style, seated theater, with a capacity of 308 persons. The prestige of the auditorium did not go to waste, as the theater was nearly two thirds full of humor-hungry college students. The stage was equipped with professional theater lighting, which made the stage glow brightly in the dark auditorium, demanding the audience’s full attention. Seven student actors stood confidently under the bright lights, six boys and one girl, all dressed in matching black T-shirts. According to Louis Moskowitz, a fellow R.I.T. improviser who attended the show, “The solid plain colors are an important part of their wardrobes because it helps to not distract the audience from the reality the actors are building.” While the clothing wasn’t distracting and it gave the actors a very polished look, it did have one unprofessional outcome. While some actors had defining features such as being African American, having a beard or being a woman, most of the actors were indistinguishable from one another. As a result, if you weren’t familiar with the actors or if you were seated far enough away, at times the show could be hard to follow. Many improvisation teams, including the television sensation “Who’s Line is it Anyway?,” deal with this issue by having each actor wear a different solid color T-shirt. Despite this one flaw, the student actors handled the rowdy and interactive audience with the utmost professionalism. Host Nicolas Giordano, kept the loud (seemingly drunk) college students, participating and happy. He even knew how to use humor and sarcasm to condemn them for their rowdiness when he needed them to be attentive.
The show consisted of the two main types of improvisation: short form and long form. The first hour was all various short form games, in which Giordano explained the rules and stipulations of the given game, and requested suggestions from the audience frequently to inspire the actors. Some of the short form games were a little lengthier and complicated such as, “Backwards Interview.” A game that involves two actors pretending to be having a job interview and much like the name suggests the interview is chronologically backwards. The scene humorously started out with Giordano yelling, “This interview is over!” Giordano’s scene partner, Kamil Bynoe, then proceeded to profess a long rant that presumably lead to Giordano’s initial dialog. The game found its comedy from one actor (usually the one applying for the job) giving an ambiguous or specific answer that was then justified with a question by the other actor (usually the interviewer). The audience roared with laughter as various jokes that ran throughout the scene were established backwards. An example of this is when the interviewer (Giordano) yelled aggressively at his secretary over the phone. As the scene progressed she continued to call and he became increasingly less and less upset with her, until he nearly loved hearing from her. Every time the actor brought this joke into the scene, the audience couldn’t contain its laughs. The dramatic irony of the humor left the audience feeling as though they had an inside joke with the actors. Some of the short form games were a little shorter and highbrow. One game entitled “Coffee” is quite literally only a couple sentences from each actor. The game is in vain of the classic joke, “I like my coffee, like I like my women…,” the only difference is that the word “coffee” is replaced by whatever the audience suggests. The actors asked for a suggestion from the audience and someone yelled out “Gene Simmons.” The actors stood in a line and each of them tried to make a joke. For example, actor Nic Kingsbury stepped forward with, “I like my woman like I like my Gene Simmons… underneath it all, it’s just some Jewish guy.” The audience loved these jokes and the actors repeated the same outline with various suggestions. After an hour of short form the actors switched to long form. Their style of long form consisted of a brief monolog by one of the actors to inspire a regular scene without stipulations, also known as a spot scene, which would be followed by several more spot scenes each one inspired by something from the scene before it. “Work in Progress,” also added a unique twist to their long form that’s often seen as a short form game. During the intermission much like they do on “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” the actors sought-out suggestions from the audience on little slips of paper and collected them to be used at the actors discretion in the various spot scenes. Throughout different scenes the actors would read these slips of paper without knowing their contents and then justify them in their dialog. This style seemed to have its ups and downs during different points of the second hour. That being said it was also solely responsible for the biggest laugh of the night. The last spot scene of the evening was a bank heist. Bynoe, the only African American actor and Kingsbury, the only bald actor were in a heated debate about the best way to keep the money they stole safe, Bynoe made a suggestion and Kingsbury aggressively said “listen whatever you do…,” Kingsbury reached into his pocket for an audience suggestion. He pulled out one of several slips of paper in which he had no idea of its contents. Kingsbury looked down and aloud, read, “Don’t trust the bald guy.” Even Kingsbury himself couldn’t contain his laughter at the odds that he had been the one to read his own demise. It felt as though the actors were forced to take a two-minute break from the scene just to allow the audience time to laugh.
While these improvisers still have some kinks to work out, as a free student-organized show, their first performance went above and beyond. The group, as a whole, was witty and quick. They also seemed to have a fan following of an intelligent audience that not only appreciated their highbrow humor but contributed to it. Many of the audience suggestions consisted of science and math jokes as well as philosophy terms and current event references. “Work In Progress” as a student-run organization has really set the bar high in regards to what we can expect from college students. These actors will undoubtedly be successful if they continue to pursue comedy after their college careers.
What I find most interesting about theater and more specifically improv is it’s ability to portray and resemble similarities to media. It’s not media but it entertains persuades and informs us all just the same. The primary difference between improv comedy and sketch comedy that you see on television is that cultivation theory is partially constructed by the audience. The Actors still hold the primary control but the kind of entertainment that is provided is at the command of the audience and the audiences reactions are visible to the actors so they can play off their hype. Theater however is a dieting art form. People in this generation are uncomfortable being that personal and vulnerable with another person unless there is a screen between them and the performer.
Trilogy: Information Persuasion Entertainment