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This New College club will be looking for laughs in the Windy City

Comedy on the Fly

A group of New College students will pack warm clothes and their sharp wit to compete in the 10th College Improv Tournament National Championships, in Chicago in February.

The Comedy Friends! club earned the right to compete by winning a regional tournament Nov. 19 held at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. The Friends! went head-to-head with eight other university teams from Florida.

Will Luera, director of improvisation at Florida Studio Theatre, said the New College teams stood out from the competition. “They were just consistently funny throughout their performance,” he said. “They immediately gained the trust of the audience.”

“Their comedy also had a higher level of sophistication; they had a more contemporary style that was grounded in reality. The situations they created were believable.”

The troupe’s co-leader, Alba Abrams, said competing last year gave them an advantage. “It was our second time there so we were more familiar with the event,” she said. “We also dressed a little nicer this year.”

To make sure each of the 12 performers got stage time, the Friends! split into two teams for the regional tournament. The two teams wound up competing against each other in the finals, “which was the greatest thing in the world,” Abrams said.

Why Improv?

Amy Bernard and Juliana Lind take their turn on stage during a recent Comedy Friends! rehearsal.
Amy Bernard and Juliana Lind take their turn on stage during a recent Comedy Friends! rehearsal.

Austin Gray, a third-year Computer Science area of concentration (AOC) and the group’s other co-leader, says the spontaneity of improvisation can be a rush. “It’s just fun; the aspect of creating in the moment on stage. There’s moments where you come up with something seemingly out of nowhere and it’s really funny. It’s a great feeling.”

Abrams, a second-year Humanities AOC, enjoys the camaraderie. “It’s a great stress reliever because it’s a great group of people you don’t usually see on campus because we all have different classes,” she explained. “So coming together playing games with a group of people is a lot of fun.”

The group practices twice a week during the school year and performs, on average, three to four times a semester, including a show this fall during Parents Weekend as they prepared for the regional tournament.

“We mostly practice on technique,” Gray said, “because there is technique in the improv. There a certain structure we try to follow with certain forms. We practice working with each other, helping each other to do better in different scenes.”

Preparing for Chicago

Andrew Maldonado and Francesca Tignor, foreground, play newscasters during an improv scene, as James von Hollen and Chandler Honaman look on.
Andrew Maldonado and Francesca Tignor, foreground, play newscasters during an improv scene, as James von Hollen and Chandler Honaman look on.

While they study for classes, Abrams and Gray say they also study comedy. “I grew up on a lot of Steve Martin and old comedy; a lot of SNL (“Saturday Night Live”),” Abrams said. “I’ve been trying to keep up with SNL even though I don’t have a TV here. Just seeing what’s new in comedy right now.”

Gray says he listens to a number of podcasts that discuss improv, including one by Matt Besser, a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade improv troupe. “Definitely one of the best parts of my week.”

As the semester draws to a close, the group is figuring out what to expect in Chicago. “Cold weather,” Abrams deadpanned.

“We’ll definitely do the best we can,” Gray said.

“We’ll have to practice a lot more,” Abrams added.

The national tournament will have the same format as the regionals. Each team gets 20-22 minutes to perform any style of improv they like, such as short-form games, long-form scenes, or a mix.

“When it comes to preparing a show, we usually just do it a week in advance,” Abrams said. “We decide what the theme of the show is. We’ll all get our own time on stage. “

Gray and Abrams agreed they’ll probably stick with a long-form show — a series of 3- to-5-minute scenes inspired by a single suggestion. The characters the performers create drive the scene as it plays out.

“It’s (long-form) the one where we know we’re the best at,” Abrams said.

Besides Abrams and Gray, the troupe members are Zach Conn, Francesca Tignor, Amy Bernard, Qake Cooley, Alice Leavengood, James von Hollen, Andrew Maldonado, Chandler Honaman, Juliana Lind and Robert Lawlor.

The Comedy Friends! has secured partial funding for transportation and lodging for the trip from the New College Student Alliance. The group is also considering a fundraiser performance.

The 10th College Improv Tournament National Championships will be held Feb. 25 in Chicago at the Vittum Theater.

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