Monday nights at the Courtyard Cafe were something to look forward to freshman year. It was an opportunity to get away from my depressing dorm and roommate in exchange for the anxiety-relieving laughs of improv theatre. Working almost entirely within the traditional Krannert model of theater (full fledged productions of Shakespeare) for the past two years, I decided to reinvigorate my interest in improvisational theatre this past Monday and attend the Spicy Clamato and deBono weekly improv night.
The Courtyard was dark and inviting with several people taking their seats in the audience at the tables and chairs unintentionally set up cabaret style. Excitement grew as Spicy Clamato, the first group to perform, psyched themselves up backstage with unison chants and cheers. An energetic Eric Roth enters the stage proclaiming, “improv is about making new friends.” This is indeed true as Spicy is not only welcoming new members to the audience but also celebrating the inclusion of four new actors to its already large cast.
The opening game called “spotlight” invites the audiences’ suggestions of either an occupation or an object or anything else the actor can use for material. The suggestions shape the scenes and characters to the point where the story originates from a tale about professional clowns to two teenagers discussing religion and snakes and ultimately completing the tangential skit with a soap opera-esque story about a lactating woman. The group quickly cycles through other games with a vigor that will leave you somewhere between exhausted an energized.
Games like “pan left/pan right” are good directing exercises with a lot of the comedy resting on the mediator to switch the scenes, as you would surf a channel on television. “Good, bad and worst advice” is a game that showcased the talents of three of the new members all note-worthy performances, however, Ryan Nallen was particularly the most enthralling giving many audience members life advice using the persona of Edgar Allen Poe, III. The final Spicy game involved a bucket of water into which the new actors must submerge their heads and take turns acting out short spontaneous scenes, this one in particular about a New Kids on the Block reunion concert and its 20-something fanatical co-ed fanbase. The night so far has truly been a special event: NKOTB remains relevant in today’s pop culture discourse and the audience witnesses a joyful Spicy baptismal.
A rowdy deBono can be heard backstage during intermission stealing the audience away from the Espresso Royale line so as not to miss the surely incendiary performance. The group takes the stage, sporting much larger membership than the five or so members I remember from two years ago. They immediately launch into a game called “sex is like.” This certain edition of the game, thanks to an audience suggestion, is “sex is like a Furby” garnering plenty of laughs regardless of how comfortable or uncomfortable the actor’s make the audience feel (“sex is like a Furby because sometimes you have to shave it.”) The laughs are always stronger with deBono and probably due to the genius of all the participants. The scenes involving a man who becomes pregnant after being seduced byvelociraptorsor music-themed games created solely by the impetus of an audience member calling out Six Flags Theme Park upon which the actors replicate organic sounds and the chorus to Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party” were quite popular.
While the performances of both groups were well received by the audience, I personally was quite surprised at the frequent use of the word ‘bitch’ by both. I welcome theatre that is unreserved and thoughtful, but there is something incredibly limiting about the use of the term. My concern shouldn’t seem like an unwarranted feminist critique, but when very strong female-centered scenes arise (and ones that don’t necessarily glorify women, but assess their faults) it would be much more challenging and humorous if the word “bitch” was excised from the skits. The term seems like a cop out for the creativity it’s obvious both groups are capable of.
For the most part, the Monday night improv I was so fond of and as many others are, has remained intact. The new members are an exciting addition to both Spicy Clamato and deBono whose clear emphasis on team work has proven to be a viable characteristic of such an intense art-form. The two groups’ ability to engage a sizable audience shouldn’t go unrecognized. The members of Spicy and deBono are too daring for what Krannert has to offer and fit well into their niche of student run experimental/improvisational theatre. Their talent requires something much more immediate as does their audience who also wants a shot at creating heart-racing theatre.
Performances are free and Spicy Clamato runs every Monday at 8 p.m., deBono at 9 p.m. in the Courtyard Cafe.