Joe Podelco / Lantern photographer
No one expected to see Siamese quadruplets, indoor petting zoos, Gatorade-loving basketball players or babies sucking each other’s thumbs on stage. These characters were not only imagined on the spot, but brought to life by performers at the Bellwether Improv Festival.
When it comes to improvisation comedy, audiences should be prepared for anything.
Nine collegiate and three professional comedy groups traveled to Ohio State this past weekend for the second-annual Bellwether Improv Festival. An OSU student improv group, 8th Floor Improv, and OUAB presented two nights of long-form improv performances free for OSU students.
As the largest improv festival in the Midwest, Bellwether showcased groups from Ohio University, Chicago, Ill., Harvard University, New York City and Columbus, Ohio among others.
Jess Scherer, a second-year in communication and member of 8th Floor Improv, said she enjoys seeing the different humor styles of each group.
“A festival like this, why it’s so great, is because we’re taking people at all different levels,” she said. “We have local, we have college and we have professional.”
For long-form style of improv, the audience chooses a word or inspiration and the group creates 20 minutes to an hour of improv scenes, said Nate Varrone, a third-year in English and member of 8th Floor Improv.
“Expect a crazy awesome time. The best part of improv is that anything goes. Anything can happen,” Scherer said. “We never know what we’re going to do, and there’s no way to prepare for it.”
As students lined up outside the Ohio Union’s US Bank Conference Theatre last Friday, some didn’t know what to expect.
Mike DePauw, a second-year in history, said he had never seen an improv show before, but a friend had recommended the festival after seeing 8th Floor Improv perform.
“We kind of have high expectations for tonight because of how much she talked it up,” DePauw said.
Brittany Belland, a third-year in psychology and member of 8th Floor Improv’s The Lil’ Dumplings, said that the festival is designed to expose OSU students to a different form of comedy.
“We not only open up the audience to our improv and what we like to do, but now we give the rest of the comedians in the world another audience,” Belland said.
Blake Rosenstein, a first-year in history, is currently taking the Freshman Seminar, “Comedy and Improv,” after seeing 8th Floor Improv perform earlier in the year.
Rosenstein said he especially enjoyed OU Improv’s performances,
“I’ve got a free Friday, so might as well,” he said. “It’s funny, I like it. I’m a guy who likes his humor.”
Not only do audience members enjoy the comedy, but so do the performers.
Aneliese Palmer, a third-year at Harvard University and member of The Immediate Gratification Players, said the group travels because it’s fun.
“It’s an improv-intensive weekend,” she said. “At the end, you’re going to have a lot of fun, and you’re going to somehow feel better about improv.”
Belland said that part of the positive energy is that the improv groups all stick together as comedians.
“We all support each other,” she said. “The fact that we have this love for comedy, we all want to do it, we all want to watch each other and we all get so excited for it.”
Some festivals focus more on the aspect of competition, similar to OSU improv events prior to Bellwether.
Kevin Bauer, a third-year in communication and president of 8th Floor Improv, said that competition puts an unnecessary pressure on the entire festival. Bauer is also a member of Marvin! and the Dutch Company, who both performed Friday night.
“(The festivals) are more along the lines of showcases, which are more fun for everyone,” he said. “Because when you’re having more fun, you automatically do better improv. If you’re having fun on stage, the audience is going to have a great time.”
Part of the humor is the development of the scene and the chemistry between players, Bauer said.
“That’s why the best improv groups are all best friends. The Pudding-Thank-You guys are all really tight, and you can tell when you watch them that this is just them having fun,” he said.
Many 8th Floor Improv members had never considered comedy before college, like Eddie Greenblat, a second-year in history and business director of 8th Floor Improv.
“You go to school, you have classes, you’re always looking for that outlet. This is my outlet and I can just go, have fun and play with my friends, essentially,” Greenblat said as he laughed. “That sounds like a fifth grader’s response.”