By Andy Tran
The spotlight shines down while you’re pretending the make-believe Granny Smith apple in your hand is bait to capture the Loch Ness Monster, played by your friend, swimming below the stage on which you’re standing.
This is improv.
A fellow improv teammate then decides the Granny Smith apple in your hand is a giant harpoon gun and the Loch Ness Monster is a invisible goldfish. You take the giant harpoon gun and you shoot it at the goldfish, missing it by several inches. The invisible goldfish jumps up from the water and flops onto the stage. You groan and slap your knee. The audience roars with laughter. And then the scene ends and a new one commences.
This is what a night in the life of the Mason Improv Association feels like. The George Mason University-based improv group will be hosting a September show Friday at the Johnson Center Bistro. It will be the first time that three improv teams: Big in Certain Countries, Mason Improv and Reaven Stevens will be performing at one show. Each team has 15-20 minutes to do its improv performance.
Improv members typically do long-form improv. First they invite someone on stage and interview them, using topical questions, and the answers inspire the scenes. The scenes are then depicted through the humor in those stories, heightening and exaggerating those details to form a scene. The interviews and the scenes compose sets. Some themes and characters go back into the set, becoming cyclical.
Former president of the Mason Improv Association Paul Laudiero started the improv scene at Mason in Fall 2010 by approaching the theater department to gauge whether the school’s actors would be interested in participating. After recruiting some students, the group started having shows on and off-campus, performing at festivals like the Del Close Marathon in New York and the District Improv Festival in Washington, D.C. Also, Mason Improv has performed regularly at the Washington Improv Theater.
Stephen Mann, a member of Reaven Stevens, is an improv performer who loves the craft.
“My favorite thing about improv is when you’re in front of the audience and you’re getting them involved in the joke and why it’s funny. The audience gets to see the process of a joke coming into fruition; both the performer and the audience are in on the joke.”
What you’re going to see at Friday’s show are people doing scenes, and at points you’ll think that they have prepared and rehearsed beforehand. Every team has different styles: Mason Improv does interviews, Reaven Stevens will be doing work with two people, and Big in Certain Countries only need a suggestion to get the comedy rolling.
“In any long-form improv scene, we begin by getting inspiration from the audience, that way the know that it is all spontaneously happening,” said Rebecca Wahls, president of the Mason Improv Association.
“We like to interview an audience member onstage to begin. After that, anything goes: improvisers are inspired by things the audience member said and initiate scenes off of it. Each scene will have an ‘unusual thing’ in it, which is where the comedy comes from. We play the unusual thing to its fullest extent and then move on to another one.”
When asked if improv can get competitive Wahls said, “Yes! In March, Washington Improv Theater hosts the Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament (FIST), a March madness, bracket style competition for for three person teams. At Mason, we’ll be hosting a Cage Match in December, a competition style and name borrowed from the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York.”
Mason Improv Association Show
Friday, Sept. 12, 10 p.m.
Johnson Center Bistro GMU, Free