Meet the students who provide free laughs

MHCC's Improv Troupe

If you’re into on-the-spot comedy, then you might be interested in getting to know about the Improv Troupe here at Mt. Hood Community College, ready to perform again on campus tonight.

I sat down with three of the members before one of their rehearsals this week to get to know what really goes on to prepare for an improv show.

One might ask, “How do you rehearse for an improvised show?” There is actually a lot that members need to prepare for.

A core member of the group since it started in fall 2014, Josh Carter said, “There’s always gimmicks of games and parlor tricks you can do; improv is oftentimes just a series of parlor tricks that you’re working on. So, we try to work on those and are working well with each other,” he said. “Usually we do a warm-up, maybe some short-form games and then long-form games.”

The latter means “doing improvised drama on stage where you could go for an hour, theoretically,” explained Benjamin Rulla. “We usually cap off at about 10-15 minutes, but we do long form as a series of regular scenes, no gimmicks no nothing, just us playing characters and trying to be true to the scene and who our characters are in that scene.”

Improv members Josh Carter and Benjamin Rulla during rehearsal. Photo by Fadi Shahin.

Improv members Josh Carter and Benjamin Rulla during rehearsal. Photo by Fadi Shahin.

Explaining his reasoning for joining the troupe, Carter said, “I really like the cooperative aspects of it. You can do a lot of stuff with improv as far as making fun of just life in general. And it makes life a little bit easier to deal with, I think, when you’re able just to mock it the entire way through. So, that’s really fun.

“I like being able to build stuff together with other people without, like, having to cohesively plan,” Carter added. “When you have a really great scene or several great games in a row, and you’re like ‘Oh, okay, great, we’re in a super-good group,’ that’s a really exhilarating feeling. That’s kind of why I do it.”

Laurel Strobel enjoys improv for a different reason, she said.

“I’m an actress and I like preforming and having exposure to do work and it’s a good excuse to have something to do. Even if I’m not in a show, I have something that I’m doing, and I’m getting to practice my craft,” Strobel said.

Throughout the rehearsal I went to, the troupe’s games and scenes were enjoyable. I was put on the spot several times for suggestions for scenes or game context. It’s hard to come up with something in the spur of the moment. These guys have to be quick-minded onstage.

During a short form game called "Late to Work" Laurel and Josh try to depict a snail to another member to guess their excuse of why they are late to work. Photo by Fadi Shahin

During a short form game called “Late to Work” Laurel and Josh try to depict a snail to another member to guess their excuse of why they are late to work. Photo by Fadi Shahin

I have a new appreciation for improv now that I’ve seen more of the process – what it takes to do well and how there is calculated thought in how to appeal to people in a comedic way, trying to avoid being offensive or vulgar, as is the case for this group.

Rulla explained, “Most of our stuff is what we would consider in good taste. We generally try to avoid certain things such as really harsh language, sexual stuff. Occasionally we slip in that innuendo… but I consider it like a Disney film, something that’s so subtle the kids won’t get it, but the adults will all snicker.”

Carter agreed on the gentle approach.

“Yeah, that would be the ideal. We do definitely have limits, like, all of our shows we try to keep at a PG-13 or lower level,” he said. “It’s pretty rare that you’ll hear an f-word, but it depends – if it happens, it happens; it’s all art and it’s all being made up on the spot. So, it’s just good stuff.

“People with young kids (should) realize going into it that we do try to make it so that it’s as un-abrasive as possible. But because it’s all being made up on the spot, it’s really hard to guarantee anything,” said Carter.

If you’re looking for a fun, casual, possibly “family friendly” night out, there will be a troupe performance at 6:30 tonight in the Studio Theater.

For those interested in possibly joining the Improv Troupe, members are required to take the improv class offered during Fall and Spring terms under MHCC theatre instructor Mace Archer, and earn at least a “B” grade.

To keep up with future shows, follow the Mt. Hood group on Facebook at: mhcc.improv.

The group’s next scheduled performance will be on March 18. Members also do frequent performances in the summer, generally every other week or once every three weeks.

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