Nathan Sivak ’13 is writhing on the floor, attempting to unhinge his jaw and eat Ian Goodrum ’12, who’s fast asleep. Tim Koning ’13 looks on in horror, but the crowd of people watching just laugh uproariously. Thankfully, this is taking place in Ewell Recital Hall, and the three students are just playing an improv game, “Party,” in which a host, played by Koning, has to guess the strange quirks of his three party guests. Sivek, Goodrum and Koning are all members of the College of William and Mary’s Improvisational Theatre group, called IT.
Founded in 1986, IT is the oldest student run arts organization on campus. The troupe holds auditions, which draw around 40 to 50 people, once a year. Ultimately, the group selects a handful of new members each year, choosing people who will compliment the group rather than just fill a quota. This demonstrates that while IT focuses on its craft, the group’s strength stems from a sense of tradition and a close, familial bond between the group as a whole.
Aron Baum ’11, currently the oldest member of IT, auditioned his freshmen year with no prior experience after seeing the group’s performance during freshman orientation.
“I was actually really shy, but IT became my first college family,” Baum said. “I didn’t join other activities, but I don’t regret choosing IT at all.”
Once accepted, each member is assigned a number. As 92, Baum is the 92nd person at the College to participate in IT’s 25-year history.
Stephen Bennett ’14, one of the newest members, also auditioned after seeing the orientation show.
“I was blown away,” said Bennett. “I did improv in high school, but this is a new level.”
The group practices three times a week. Although practices are intended to hone members’s improv skills, members consider practice more fun than work.
“It’s like recess for college,” Paul Tucker ’12 said.
At the beginning of a typical practice, the 12 members immediately delve into a warm-up exercise. Standing in a circle, they start shouting phrases and mirroring each other’s motions.
“Chimee, chimmee, chee,” one calls.
“Chimmee chimmee choo,” another responds.
The pace is quick, and it’s hard to keep up, but if someone does skip a beat, they all laugh it off and the game resumes.
Once warmed up, they begin playing games they might use in a performance such as Oscar moments, press conference, off stage-dubbing and the alphabet game. Everyone laughs as their fellow cast members perform, and constructive criticism is provided afterward.
“Don’t make the scene about the object; make it about the relationship,” Kristin Lied ’12 said to two other cast members in response to a game that involved a scene based on a spatula.
Once outside the safety of practice, however, the content and quality of IT’s performances depend on one important aspect: the audience.
“We work well in small spaces when everyone is there to see an Improv show,” Goodrum said. “We feed off the energy of the crowd.”
IT performances throughout the school year include the orientation show, shows in Ewell and at the Kimball Theatre, and the 12-hour long “Improvathon.” Improvathon is a homecoming for IT alumni, who return to perform for the alumni hour of the event.
Every fall break, the group makes a pilgrimage to Chicago, Ill., the Mecca of improv comedy, and participates in workshops with groups like Second City Improv. The group also meets with IT alumni now working professionally in improv theatre.
For some members of IT, improv is something they hope to keep with them in the future.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to this,” Lied said.