On Friday, Feb. 11, the University of Maine’s improvisation performance group Improv In Sanity performed at 7 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre in the Class of 1944 Hall. Over the course of 40 minutes, members of the audience had the opportunity to get involved with the silliness that occurred on stage.
Jonathan Donnelly, the president of the troupe, talked about how the audience is crucial to their successful performances.
“Everything on stage starts with an idea from the audience—that could be a character, a setting, a situation or something completely out of the blue,” Donnelly said.
Improvisation, also known as improv, is a form of unscripted comedy that is generated from prompts and audience suggestions. Improv is different from a regular comedy show where the shows are scripted and each audience hears the same jokes.
“The audience can get a lot more involved in the fun, and even help steer the show,” Donnelly said. “With improv, you get a show that has never happened before and will never happen again because there is no script at all.”
This means that audiences can attend multiple performances without ever experiencing the same joke twice.
With only a concept or an idea to work off of, it is very common for improv shows to get wild. Because of the audience participation, the performers always expect the unexpected.
“The unexpected moments are the best part of improv!” Donnelly said. “The funniest things always start with an improviser’s brain completely misfiring or an audience member completely throwing us for a loop.”
Audience members can get creative with their suggestions that causes even the performers to break character.
“One of my favorite unexpected moments happened last year. We often played a game called blind lines, where audience members write out lines on pieces of paper that we have to pick up and use on the spot,” Donnelly said. “During one show, one of us picked up and said the line ‘I’m gonna punch the kid in the boot.’ She looked up, and was eye-to-eye with an audience member who had broken his ankle. Seeing her face drop as she looked at him was priceless, and everybody in the room, audience and cast, completely lost it.”
Improv is not just all fun and games, but about teamwork and collaboration. It can help the performers formulate valuable skills that can be used on and off stage.
“The goal of an improviser is always to make the other people in their scene look good, which means you have to really hear and support other people’s ideas,” Donnelly said. “That’s a great skill for any setting—it can be difficult to hold back your own thoughts to give other people a platform—but it makes teamwork so much easier! If you can improv, you can work with and talk with anybody.”
Donnelly has been a part of the comedy troupe since his first-year at UMaine.
“I’d never done improv before, but it seemed like fun so I gave auditioning a shot,” Donnelly said. “I somehow got in, and have had an absolute blast learning something new and hanging out with great people every day in the group.”
There are two parts that make up Improv In Sanity. They have their regular club that meets every Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre, and they also have their audition-based performance group.
“Auditions happen at the beginning of each semester, and typically consist of running the auditioning folk through a few games with some performers to see how they play together, how well they listen and what they bring to the group in general,” Donnelly said. “We love new people, and would be happy to welcome anybody interested.”
The comedy troupe performs twice a month. The next show will be on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. You can find them on Instagram at @improvinsanity and on Facebook at Improv In Sanity for upcoming performances or questions about the troupe.