Always say “yes, and…,” never deny one another, avoid questions and focus on your relationships.
These are just a few of the technical rules Kansas State’s On The Spot Improv teams were judged on at the College Improv Tournament’s Heartland Regional on Jan. 14. The teams competed in long-form improvised plays, a contest where the teams are given a random word just before having to improvise a 20-minute scene based off the assigned word.
This was the final word Black and White and Read All Over — one of the two K-State teams — received during the regional finals. After a 20-minute skit based off “parachute,” the group was named the champions of the Heartland Regional.
The team will now move onto the College Improv Tournament Nationals in Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 25.
“I’m looking forward to practicing with my team and smoothing over any bumps in the road that may come up along the way,” Emma Pirotte, freshman in secondary education, said. “I’m excited to work on the technical skills of improv because that’s what the judges look for, so we have to be polished.”
But the team is not judged on the technical aspects of their performance, and judging improv can be quite subjective.
“It’s really subjective and the judges like whatever they like, but really it’s about how well we connect with each other and can play with each other on stage and how well we can produce a good scene and laughs,” Casha Mills, senior in English, said.
Mills and Pirotte are two of the five team members making up Black and White and Read All Over. Other team members include Michael Lee, December 2016 graduate in animal sciences and industry; Nate Kochuyt, freshman in theatre; and Brigid Reilly, senior in theatre.
Practiced, not rehearsed
One might think winning the College Improv Tournament takes a stroke of luck or that those members of the team are naturally quick on their feet, but Kochuyt said this is not the case.
“A lot of people don’t realize that improv involves practicing because it’s not rehearsed or scripted at all, but it really does (involve practice),” Kochuyt said. “You just go out there and do your thing, but in order to do it well, you have to get to know your team better.”
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On the Spot practices for two hours every week, but they also make sure they find time to hang out as a team and get to know each other both off and on the stage.
“To practice, all we do is get random words and make up 20-minute improvised plays on the fly,” Pirotte said. “Practices are just so fun and we’re not afraid to critique each other or give input because it’s all about becoming better improvisers and we can push each other to do that at practice and outside of practices.”
“It’s super fun, but improv is hard,” Pirotte continued. “Every week we work hard to make ourselves better improvisers by making sure what we’re saying is both funny and effective. We got on our CIT teams about two months ago and since then it’s just been practice, practice, practice.”
Off-the-stage practices include hanging out, playing games and watching movies.
“We get to know each other as a person and as a performer, so when you get on stage, you have an idea of what they are going to be doing,” Kochuyt said.
No coach, no problem
Even though the team did not have a coach, On the Spot Improv members proved to themselves that a lot of hard work can pay off.
“We are a self-taught team and you don’t find that a lot on college campuses,” Mills said. “We do not have a coach and because of that, we individually have to make up for that and do an intense amount of learning on our own so we can teach each other.”
Lee said the teams make up for this by practicing as much as possible.
“I didn’t expect to win at all, though,” Lee said. “It was just one of those days where we decided we would let go of any worries and just go with it. We just kind of threw caution to the wind and went for it, so when he said our names I think my face went through a multitude of emotions all at once.”
Family first, champions second
The bond between a team can make or break the improvised play, even if the team members have mastered all the technical skills.
“I think it is because of our bond with each other and the way we can connect with each other that really helped us in the end,” Mills said. “I can’t imagine having done what we did with any other group of people.”
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Spending time together outside of practice is not just to become better improvisers, though, as Kochuyt said hanging out is a choice, not a requirement.
“We all get along very well and have that sort of chemistry and bond that you can’t really find in a lot of other places,” Kochuyt said. “We are a very fun group of individuals.”
Mills said what makes On the Spot Improv so special is the opportunity to connect with people on campus who you probably would have never met if it were not for improvisation.
“It’s like being a part of the most weirdest family you could ever imagine,” Mills said. “Everyone is so different and so quirky and we all have different things that we like, but somehow we all come together and make the greatest team. We instantly become part of the family.”
Not just a family, though. A family who is ready to win.
“I’m excited to win nationals,” Mills said. “Every year we consistently get better, not just at the competitions, but overall. I feel like this is our prime time and we’re ready to go.”