When Kaylie Brinkman began her freshman year at UB, she considered herself bashful and found it hard to “be the person I wanted to be, to speak out loud.”
Now a senior biological sciences major and vice president of the UB Improv Club, Brinkman is a tour guide on campus, performs on stage with confidence and grace and has the skill set to conquer professional interviews.
She says she couldn’t have done it without UB Improv.
“Improv has pretty much helped every facet of me,” Brinkman said in an interview with The Spectrum. “It’s more than you would think.”
Brinkman isn’t alone in this sentiment.
UB Improv is one of the hundreds of clubs that can be found across campus — clubs focusing on entertainment, politics, religion, communities of color and academics. At the start of each semester, the club holds auditions to select members for its troupes, the groups that perform at the club’s biweekly shows. This year’s troupes are called Lighter Lifestyle, Sigma Males and Tomfoolery.
In addition to its shows, UB Improv hosts weekly workshops, open to all students, on Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m. in SU 330, where participants work on improv-related skills like projecting one’s voice and physicality.
And UB Improv is more than just shows and practices; it has its foundation in the community it builds.
Current members have referred to the club as not only a space to learn this specific form of comedy, but also as a place to socialize as one’s honest self.
“I get to be dorky in a free environment without judgment,” Juliana D’Orazio, a junior anthropology major and the club’s events coordinator, said about her time in the club.
This freedom of expression is also shared by Brinkman.
“I came from a small town, so it was a little more conservative around there,” Brinkman said. “And when I’m at Improv, I can just shout out loud and crack jokes and be who I want to be.”
Participants spend time with each other beyond the club’s doors with troupe bonding exercises, like bowling or going out to eat, which members say help foster this familiar and welcoming environment.
But UB Improv isn’t only for its members; the e-board says it’s as open to newcomers and non-members as it is for active participants. The only important thing is that one has an appreciation for the craft and the people involved.
“We want everybody to show up,” Thomas Andrews, a senior history major, Spectrum staff podcaster and president of UB Improv, said. “We want people who have different opinions, people who have different walks of life, and we all just want to get up on stage.”
The organization has allowed engaged students to gain skills learned through the craft, as well as social skills developed through the community, which aid them beyond the boundaries of the stage.
“I’m a media studies major, so I work on film sets a lot,” Thomas Kowalski, a senior, Spectrum staff podcaster and secretary of UB Improv, said. “Sometimes I’ve got to act as a character in this and create scenes. Now, I’ll add a bit to my character here and there.”
Other benefits include enhancing communication in public speech and interviews, which some club members have found particularly beneficial.
“It helps improve confidence,” Kowalski said. “It helps get rid of social anxiety a little bit. It’s nice and helps you think on your feet more.”
For D’Orazio, this meant class presentations became less of a stressor in her life. And it allowed Brinkman to “catapult things out and work with it” when unsure what to say in interviews with research labs.
Many members say UB Improv has changed them, but the club itself has gone through a period of transition this past year as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the club to make some major adjustments.
In particular, mask requirements have been a limiting factor this semester. This is the first semester the club can hold workshops and practices with more than 10 people since the pandemic began, so non-verbal communication is key.
“Improv is a very physical, emotive form of comedy,” Kowalski said. “It’s hard to do that when you have to wear a mask that covers half your face.”
On top of the masks limiting participants from seeing their peers’ faces, they also inhibit members’ abilities to project, an essential skill to ensuring an audience hears what the performers are saying.
As a result, the club’s e-board has made sure to ensure its members are able to project their voices without shouting.
This emphasis on projection came with a slight change of direction for the club, which is now utilizing more practice time to teach improv as a skill set, rather than a social activity.
“The club was stuck in the status quo, especially after a pandemic,” Andrews said.
With these changes, there remains a silver lining.
Because of the pandemic, UB Improv created a YouTube channel where they live stream their shows.
This has allowed for an expanded audience to view the club’s performances, including parents and friends who are unable to attend in person.
Now, UB Improv will be aiming to make the most of its restrictions. In particular, members look forward to the murder mystery dinner, or the group’s annual fundraiser.
This event brings the cast and audience together to solve a murder with a particular theme. In the past, UB Improv has set the mystery against the backdrop of a high school reunion and of the Greek Gods.
This year, the show will be taking a royal theme, centering around the Kingdom of Improvnia.
The show will take place Nov. 5 from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets will be available in the SU Ticket Office, prices are yet to be determined.
From performances as varied as the murder mystery to the biweekly shows, members cite improv as one of the best parts of their UB experience.
“When you put on a show and you’re hitting all the right beats and everyone’s laughing at your jokes and everyone feels really coordinated, that’s one of the best feelings ever,” Brinkman said.
Kara Anderson is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org