One would usually not expect to see a trio of human bears stalked by quirky children coveting a smoked ham — unless, of course, it was an improvised acting exercise.

Each week, Taylor Down Under’s stage becomes the playground for the imagination of the most dangerous resource on earth: a college student’s mind.

New & Improv’d is JMU’s student improv comedy troupe. Improv is short for improvisation, a type of acting that forces the actors to think on their feet. There’s no script and very little rehearsal. 

To ensure the audience that none of the performance is pre-rehearsed, the acting troupe will perform scenes only at the audience’s request. 

“Everything we do is off the top of our heads,” said Diego Salinas,  a sophomore theatre major and New & Improv’d  treasurer. “Nothing is rehearsed; every time we do a show, we have no idea what we are doing.”   

The group depends entirely on each other; if anything starts to fall apart, another member of the troupe must be able to pick up the slack. 

“We learn to be comfortable together as team members,” Logan Brown, a senior theatre major, said. Brown compares it to The CW’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

The group’s performance usually consists of a series of acting games where the goals of the performers change on a whim.

“There aren’t necessarily any rules of improv,” Brown said.

The troupe waltzes on stage through the audience. Teeming with anticipation, they spring to attention as scene requests are rapidly fired at them from the public.

“Do a scene with a monkey! Do a scene on a farm! Make the story in outer space! Have him propose with an onion ring!”  

As the actors portray an everyday scene at a burger stand, they hear a shout and have to spring into action — suddenly there are two astronauts in space. Two distinct storylines, flipped and switched in the blink of an eye. These are only a few of the seemingly unrelated ideas the audience wants the troupe to perform. 

Each game the troupe chooses to perform is different from the next. One of the more involved games is “Pan Left, Pan Right.’’ The object of the game is to perform different storylines for the audience.  Four actors in pairs circumvent the stage depicting different scenes decided by the audience, switching between the scenes at the will of the buzzer, usually operated by a designated master of ceremonies.  

In addition to keeping each storyline straight, the actors must connect each of the different scenes by incorporating the last line said from the previous scene into the next one. 

“Freeze,” another improv game, involves two actors who portray a suggestion from the audience until someone yells out “Freeze!” From there, another actor must take the place of the last actor and create a new scene based off the last line spoken and last pose. 

A crowd favorite is “Gibberish Murder Mystery.” In this game, four actors must solve a murder. The murder weapon, location and victim’s identity are decided by the audience. One actor becomes the audience’s voice by “witnessing” the murder, acting out each part of the mystery using only gibberish and motioning to another actor, the detective, who just arrives at the scene of the crime. To let the witness know that the detective solved the crime, the detective must do something drastic that surprises the entire crowd. Then the detective becomes the witness, and the next actor comes in.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Brown said. “What we do is pretty big — people use our craft to develop better public speaking skills.” 

New & Improv’d plans to perform in Taylor Down Under every Friday night and is looking into having a Saturday night show as well. 

“The beauty of improv is how everything you do makes sense in the world you create on stage,” Macy Pniewski, a junior English major and member of New & Improv’d, said. “There are no mess-ups, there is nothing to mess up.”

 

Contact Teresa Cummings at cumminte@dukes.jmu.edu.