Improvising Their Way at Stony Brook

May 9th, 2014.

By Sarah Park

There is a new improvisation club on campus, it doesn’t officially have a name yet, but it is a subset of the Stony Brook Pocket Theatre group, which is an undergraduate theatre organization at Stony Brook University, and they are currently going as the Stony Brook Improv Club. The Improv club was founded in March by Zohaib Rattu, 19, a sophomore Economics major, and David Bonderoff, 20, a junior Theatre Arts major at Stony Brook University.

Rattu, the founder and CEO of the Improv Club, said he had thought of making an improvisation group since freshman year. His interests led him to take acting classes in college, where he realized that there was potential to create his vision. However, his initial vision wasn’t exactly improvisation per say – Rattu called it “FlashProv,” which is a combination of flash mob and improvisation.

A flash mob is usually when a group of people show up, unexpectedly, in a certain location and perform a rehearsed piece in front of others. An improvisation is a group of people performing unrehearsed, unscripted sketches to an audience – a performance out of the blue. Combine these two and you have “FlashProv” – spontaneous performances of scripted or unscripted skits in random locations.

Rattu had assembled a “FlashProv” group last semester with his Acting I classmates. They performed unscripted sketches to Stony Brook University students out on the Staller Steps, however, the group didn’t last long. “The group did not have a strong enough foundation to last into the next semester because the students did not have the common acting class together anymore,” said Bonderoff, President of the Improv Club.

Rattu’s vision finally came to life when he met Bonderoff in his Improvisation class this semester. The “FlashProv” idea didn’t work, but it became the stepping stone to their new club, the Improv club, which now has about six regular members who show up to every meeting.

Although the club is still at its beginning stages, the group has already had their first performance on April 30th at the Global Studies (GLS) End of the Year Celebration. Six members of the club showed up to perform two improvisation games in front of a crowd of 80 or so students and faculty. They opened up the show with a game called “Magic Threes,” and ended with another game called, “The Party Scene.”

In “Magic Threes” there are three groups of two people who have to perform unscripted scenes together until they hear a bell ring, which was done randomly by a fellow theatre student who came to help out. The last sentence said before the bell rings is the first sentence for the next team, and it goes on and on for three rounds. But the first group has to start with a suggestion from the crowd. The suggestion has to be an environment, like “Chucky Cheese,” which was suggestion from the crowd that evening.

The second and final game, “The Party Scene,” is when one person, the host, has no idea who is coming to his or her party, but has to guess who the actors are portraying. The actors, the guests, have to play a made-up character or person that they and the audience come up with. For this performance, Bonderoff was the host, and he had a range of guests from Pokemon, a hair model with dandruff, a character from Clue who was trying to find a murderer, to Mary Poppins’ jealous sister. Bonderoff was able to identify every single character except Mary Poppins’ jealous sister. His reason – he had somehow never seen Mary Poppins before.

The crowd participated in all the right moments, laughed and clapped in the right moments and seemed to really enjoy the show. Once the show was over there was a the auditorium filled with claps and cheers – a sign that they had had fun. It was the Improv Club’s first show and they were nervous and a bit worried that the audience wouldn’t find them funny, but it turned out to be a huge success. “We’ve been working really hard, and it really paid off,” Bonderoff said. “The audience responded so well. Everyone was laughing, everyone was excited to hear it, and as an actor I know how important audience’s response is because it inspires you, and improv is all about the inspiration.”

Another member of the club who performed that evening was Joe Huberman, 21, a Health Science major. He also had a great time and felt the success of the evening’s performance. “We got a lot of laughs, we got a lot of praise afterwards, I think we really put our right food forward in making a good image for this club,” he said.

Improvisation may sound like a light subject – its only purpose to make funny jokes and banters on stage – but to the members, it is more than that. It’s a craft that requires countless hours of practice and refinement. They have to be able to instantly know whether their partner is feeling confident, knows what to do next, or is lost and needs someone else to take over – and this can only be achieved through continual practice. The club may be new, but everyone in the group has had some acting experience whether it be on a stage or in class, and each and every member has something to contribute to the group.

But can people with non-acting experience join the group? Yes. The Improv Club is open to anyone and everyone who is interested. They want to teach people how to do improv and they also believe improvisation skills can be useful in any type of situation. “Improv is a great life skill,” Huberman said. “It gives you very good conversation skills, it makes you more at ease in approaching people, and talking to people, and being sociable.” Improvisation trains and exercises your response skills, and it helps with your confidence – standing in front of a crowd and saying the first thing that comes to mind can do that.

Most importantly, though, is the fun in improvising. Everyone has a great time during the meetings where they do improvisation games and share their thoughts on what they want to do or what they think would help the club. The meetings are full of jokes, laughs and golden moments of pure comedy. “I love being a part of something that is just starting right now,” said Timothy Frenzel, 20, a Sociology major and a member of the Improv Club. “Just to see from day one, where there was literally just us in a classroom kind of just secretly doing improv games and now we’re in a hall way kind of secretly doing improv games, but with slightly more people, and with a plan to be a very legitimate club. I’m very excited for next year and for next semester.”

The club meets every Monday and Wednesday nights at 8:30 in the Union basement. They are open to anyone who is interested in learning about improvisation and those who just want to have a good time. “We aim to train and refine students in the art of improvisation, whether it be recreational, comedic, dramatic, or structured,” said Bonderoff.






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