Improvising a Title
There were some odd party guests in the room: a sea captain hunting schizophrenics, a man running from the Stay Puft marshmallow man, a nurse fainting at the sight of blood, a host desperately trying to figure out just who is in their house, and an audience laughing at the mayhem. But this is just a normal day at a UB Improv show.
UB Improv is a club that explores different forms of improvisational theatre. From workshops, to shows, to their upcoming murder mystery fundraiser, the club has been giving UB students the opportunity to showcase their comedic chops in front of an audience of their peers.
Chris Salmin, a junior business and psychology major and UB Improv President, has been a member of the club since its start in 2009. With Improv experience in high school and after freshman orientation - where all of the emphasis was on joining a club, according to Salmin - he united with another founding member and decided to make an Improv club happen.
Over the years, the club has worked on not only their comedy and improvisational skills, but along the way they've had to work on some of the political structures of the club itself, according to Salmin.
"It started out very unofficially, we were a [temporary] club my freshman year, so everyone kind of did what they had to do [to] keep things moving," said Salmin. "There was kind of a bit of a power struggle."
But after working out the kinks in the clubs leaders - by expanding for an e-board of three to six - UB Improv had the opportunity to stop worrying so much about the management of the club and focus on their actual purpose: comedy.
"I've gotten this quote one million times," Salmin said. "It gets me every time: 'you know guys, when I came to your show I really didn't think you were going to be funny but I was really surprised. You guys were great.'"
Lyle Selsky, junior history major and secretary of UB Improv,joined the club as a sophomore after hearing about the club from his fellow troupe-mate. Selsky was told that the shows were a lot of fun and that he should check them out. Already looking to get back on stage, Selsky decided that UB Improv would be a great way to do it.
There were some differences between performing in high school and in college, and Selsky quickly found that out.
"It's a different crowd," Selsky said. "A college crowd allows you to be more brash if you'd like to be and more independent."
With other clubs, the thought of failing in front of a large audience might be a nerve-wracking experience, but UB Improv's level of normal is different from anything else, according to Sarah Antao, sophomore English and media production major.
"[My favorite part is] that I can go in and make a total fool of myself and that's normal," Antao said. "I can go in and be silly and have a blast. It's just a judge free kind of zone."
Between the members of the club and between the actors and the audience, UB Improv is all about being inclusive. As members form a troupe, they tend to form relationships, social experiences, and build skills that are professionally applicable, according to Salmin.
Salmin has been at many job interviews where he gets thrown a curveball but he's used to thinking on his feet. Being a part of UB Improv, Salmin has had experience performing in front of a large audience while simultaneously thinking on his feet.
Improv is not just a comedy show; it's also about the interaction between the audience and the actors. Salmin's favorite games are the ones where the audience gets involved. One game in particular is when the audience write down quotes, hand them to the actors, and then during a scene the actors must say the lines and justify why their character's said it.
"Totally random s*** too, the stuff people write down," Salmin said. "[The audience thinks,] 'I wrote that. That was mine.' It really makes them feel connected [and] watching the actors struggle on stage is always a pleasure."
When actors are faced with such awkward situations they embrace it, according to Antao. They work without scripts, without sets, but they go with the flow. Often the actors get weird prompts, or suggestions from the audience, and they just go with it.
"I think we got one which was Ron Paul wins the Presidential election," Antao said. "It was just really obscure, nothing you could really act out silently and we went with it. We kind of got it [though]. We got as far as politician but it was kind of hard to convey Ron Paul."
This Saturday UB Improv will be throwing The Golden Age of Hollywood, a murder-mystery show. The club has been preparing for weeks for the fundraiser that will combine comedy, food, and UB Improv's distinct flavor, according to Salmin.