Noodling with Improv | Albright College

Noodling with Improv

By Abigail Ensslen ’21

Albright’s improv performers are learning how to laugh at themselves.

Stephen Colbert intended to be a serious drama actor. But in college, he was exposed to improvisational theatre — and found his calling. Improv is a form of mostly, or entirely, unscripted theatre. And Colbert’s story isn’t much different from that of many other well-known comedians like Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler or even Robin Williams.

It’s a calling that Joey Love ’20 has heard. The senior theatre major works as Front of House Manager for Comedy Sports in Philadelphia, and hopes to find himself on Chicago’s Second City stage down the road.

While most college improv actors aren’t headed for a comedic career, the experience can be invaluable in a vast assortment of future situations. Consider the value of a CEO who is able to shift his or her perspective, or a teacher who can quickly recognize when a concept isn’t catching on. Led by Coach Matt Fotis, Ph.D., Albright’s improv performers are learning how to laugh at themselves, how to collaborate with peers, and what it’s like to make and live with decisions. Two performing groups include an open-access, low pressure “Less Than or Equal To” group and “Soviet Purgatory,” which is an audition-based team that participates in college festivals, Bethlehem’s Steel Stacks Improv Festival and more. Read on as current members share their experiences.

Natalie Paschket ’23

Natalie Paschket ’23

Environmental science major from Guntersville, Ala.

Why Improv?
I have never done anything on stage, in front of people, without either my trombone or my baritone, and I wanted to try something new when I got to college.

Top three life skills learned from Albright Improv?
I learned how to receive and give back in conversation, public speaking confidence and working in a team.

First lesson of improv?
One thing I learned is to just go with the scene instead of trying to go against it. I look up to Joey [Love ’20] and Sam [Philipps ’20]. They are both really outgoing and very quick to make a scene better.

Matt Fotis, Ph.D., Chair, Associate Professor of Theatre, Director of Undergraduate Research

Matt Fotis, Ph.D.

Chair, Associate Professor of Theatre, Director of Undergraduate Research from Chicago, Ill

What skills do you hope students learn from performing in Improv?
Creativity, collaboration and failure. Failure is a great teacher. I mean, WD-40 is WD-40 because they messed up 39 times, right? And so much of life is about collaboration. We work with other people in all sorts of different ways — both in personal relationships and also in employment — but improv is sort of hyper-collaboration. We are literally making it up with other people on the spot. A lot of introverts do improv as a way to practice those skills, myself included. It’s a way to flex creative muscles, to think about using just your own wits to create something on the spot with somebody else.

Favorite thing about watching your team act?
The best part is when everything clicks. It’s really great when you see a student set another student up for a joke. We talk about this idea of collaboration and teamwork, right? So when you clearly see them make that move to set up somebody else, and then the other person gets that joke and the big laugh, but the two of them know that they did it together that’s very fun. Those would be the ‘make your heart feel good’ moments.

Failure is okay because it’s part of the process. You can’t know what the other person will do and so adaptability is everything. — Matt Fotis

Joey Love ’20

Joey Love ’20

Theatre major from Philadelphia, Pa.

Why Improv?
I’ve always been fascinated with comedy as an art form, and I had a few senior friends freshman year who invited me to try it. I fell in love, and have realized more and more how crucial improv training is for a comedian.

What do you wish people knew about improv?
It’s not just making things up on the fly. There’s a lot of training that goes into it, just like straight play acting. You need to form relationships and make sure that you are doing everything that you have to do to ensure that your partners are supported.

Top three life skills learned from Albright Improv?
Knowing when to lead and when to follow, knowing when to make sure that everyone in your ensemble is supported, and I learned a lot about how to be funny without being abrasive or large. I can be just as funny staying still and serious versus when I’m being a Chris Farley type.

Your favorite performance to date?
I think one of the shows I hold near and dear to my heart is one of my first performances with “Soviet Purgatory.” One of our members couldn’t come, so there were only four of us, instead of five. It was one of our strongest performances, and I remember that we talked a lot about what made it strong. I got really close with that group, and I realized how important it is to trust your ensemble.

Who’s your improv role model?
I’ve always looked up to Chris Farley. I got the chance to go to Second City and work where he had worked, and that’s where I hope to end up. When I was in high school, I saw a performance at Comedy Sports in Philly, and now I work there, so some of the people I work with were in the performance when I saw it eight years ago. Ultimately though, my biggest role model is Matt [Fotis] because over these four years, I gained a vast knowledge of not only improv, but also comedy studies in general. My humor has evolved through him and because of him, and I wouldn’t be the comedian I am today without him.

Favorite improv game?
I really like long-form improv more than short-form improv. All of our “Soviet Purgatory” shows this semester and next are long form (three monologues, each followed by three scenes), and we’ve been inviting various professors who have never done improv to do the monologues. We just had Lawrence Morris, Ph.D. from the English department, and it was incredible because he did the entire third monologue in both Irish Celtic and Pennsylvania Dutch. So, we were listening for words in those languages that sounded like English. He had a blast doing improv for the first time, and he now appreciates what we do.

Samantha Philipps ’20

Samantha Philipps ’20

Albright Improv President and English and theatre major from Saylorsburg, Pa.

Now president of Albright Improv, Samantha Philipps has been taking to the stage since high school, has created her own Shakespeare company with friends, and hopes to build up a fledgling Poconos theatre scene.

Top three life skills learned from Albright Improv?
How to work with people, how to acknowledge when your idea is bad, and when to stop talking so other people can be heard.

Your favorite performance to date?
Drexel’s Improv show as “Soviet Purgatory.” We were ‘Sam and the boys,’ and even though it was just the four of us, we managed to keep pace and entertain the audience. Plus, I got to grab Dylan [Martin ’20] by the shirt and threaten him over kitchen spices.

What do you wish people knew about improv?
Even if you think you are not good at improv you probably can be. All it takes is some fine-tuning of skills and a desire to perform. Everyone can be good at it, and everyone has the capacity for humor. Just show up one day and test your luck. Who knows, maybe your scene as a talking cheeseburger will be the funniest thing that will happen that year.

 

An imaginary bowl of spaghetti is often passed around during Improv practice, kicking off a circle of receiving or denying other odd items. The game promotes active listening, eye contact and engagement.