The lights, the stage and the script – wait, ignore the last one.
Senior directing major Kyle Odum has finally started something he’s been thinking about for years – an improv troupe.
“It’s just been a really long time coming, and I finally had the opportunity, the place, the people and the timing to start something,” Odum said.
The improv group, called Beaked Humor, was officially recognized by Belmont at the end of September and had its first audition the week of Oct. 20. Though the turnout consisted mostly of theater majors and minors, the group is open to any student who is interested.
“Improv welcomes anyone and everyone,” Odum said. “Whether your skill is a 10 or your skill is a one, you can still have fun and learn from it. You can take a lot away from it.”
Improvisation is a performance without a script – the actors draw upon suggestions from the crowd and come up with their actions and words on the spot. An improv troupe is a group of actors whose main focus is just that – improv.
Odum has been involved with the professional improv group Schrodinger’s Cat based in Augusta, Ga. and has taught improv classes to younger students at his high school.
“It’s just something I really, really like,” Odum said. “I remember being 10, 11 years old and watching ‘Whose Line’ at midnight.”
In addition, Odum also has the support of James Al-Shamma, the faculty adviser for the troupe. Al-Shamma also has experience with improvisation, ranging from teaching classes at Belmont to starting an improv troupe which met in his living room.
“The reason Kyle invited me to be involved was that I taught an improv class last spring, which Kyle was in with a number of other theater majors and non-majors. I actually have been very much in the background this semester,” Al-Shamma said. “Kyle’s just taken it and run with it.”
The troupe consists of three inner groups – an inclusive group open to all students, the ensemble and the core performers. The ensemble and the core performers are the only groups that require an audition.
“In this group, anyone can audition and anyone can learn, but since it’s broken down into three sets of people, we still have the ultimate goal of having a very well-polished performance,” Odum said.
Another one of Beaked Humor’s goals is to have monthly performances on campus.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a two-part show. The first hour being short-form improv games, you know, crowd pleasers, the fun stuff,” Odum said. “Then having intermission and the next 45 minutes being experimental improv, more long-form improv.”
Senior Cory Baldwin, an entertainment industry studies major and theater minor and one of the heads of the troupe, is also looking forward to what the troupe brings to campus.
“I like the concept of having anybody in it,” Baldwin said. “There’s a lot of people that aren’t in the theater program that are super talented with acting and improvisation, so I think it’s really great that we can kind of harness the potential of everybody.”
But Odum doesn’t want the troupe to be content staying within the campus limits. He is looking for people to teach workshops, and he is planning to reach out to well-known improvisational performers, including Chip Esten, a comedian who has appeared several time on the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
“He is apparently a great Belmont lover, so that would be an amazing workshop to have,” Odum said.
The workshops are important and a part of the troupe’s constitution – there is to be at least one workshop per semester so students can continue learning.
“You don’t just have to be brilliant to be a good improviser. It doesn’t hurt, but it is a set of skills that can be learned. I think that workshop clause is a very important one,” Al-Shamma said. “I think it can only make you a better improviser to have more training.”
The actors are vital to a performance’s success, but in an improv performance the audience is just as important.
Watching improvisation is a different experience than watching a scripted show, Odum said. The connection between the audience and the performers is much different, he says.
“You have to have the audience participate in the activity for it to work. You’re getting locations, you’re getting ideas, suggestions from them,” Odum said. “The audience has to be as engaged as the performers are. If the audience isn’t engaged, then ultimately it’s not going to be a great show.”
Because the first audition conflicted with rehearsals for Fall Follies and “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Odum plans for there to be at least one more audition before the end of the semester.
“I want everyone in the school to know this isn’t a theater-department exclusive thing. Generally when we do things in the theater department, it is very clique-ish because it’s generally just this group of people,” Odum said. “This is open to everyone on campus. That’s the big thing I want people to know and want to get out there.”