"Underground Theatrical Institute" 5C Improvisation Group Lightens Up Student Body

Photo courtesy of UTI.

“There’s power in being ridiculous.”

That's how Christine Covode PZ '19, one of the three leaders of the Underground Theatrical Institute (UTI) improvisation group, describes her work.

“I really do love silly," she said. "I love creating stupid little realities with other people who just want a laugh. There’s no better feeling in the world than laughing hard and having other people laugh with you. That’s a big part of what we do in improv.”

The 5C UTI improvisation group unleashed their line-up of silly, fun scenes in their Halloween-themed show this past Saturday in Scripps College’s Vita Nova Hall. The rows of seats in the hall were full with 5C students, and the room’s sides were strewn with more people leaning against the walls. The other leaders of the groups include Miranda Smith PZ '20 and Eric Gofen PO '19.

“I was surprised by the number of people who showed up,” said Abdullah Shahid PO '19, who was sitting in the audience. “But [UTI was] very good. You know how improv groups have this energy? I thought they played with the energy well.”  

In keeping with the Halloween theme, the cast introduced themselves as different pumpkins. “I’m the spicy pumpkin latte,” one cast member screamed, accompanying the dialogue with a jig. “I’m punk pumpkin,” another member said.

The cast split into two groups of eight people. The first cohort took hold of the limelight, building scenes from audience-suggested scenarios, such as a criminal being interrogated for stealing shoes, and producing ripples of laughter in the audience. The actor who played the criminal wasn’t allowed to hear the audience’s suggestion; she sat clueless, as the two detectives who accused her of gallivanting off with Paris Hilton in a criminal manner kept indicating her shoes. “Fine,” she said after figuring out what her own crime was, “I stole shoes with Paris Hilton on Labor Day! Happy now?”

“In improv, you have no idea what’s going to come out of your mouth, and sometimes you’ll say something, and you’ll be like, ‘Where did that come from?’” said Zed Hopkins PO '20, one of the new UTI members. “I think what’s great about [improv] is that it exists in this world in which it’s okay not to have control, to be spontaneous. It’s so different from the routine of everyday life.”

Hopkins mentioned that he does recognize that less funny or less productive things can sometimes spill out from an actor’s mouth. “But the thing is, you still have each other’s backs,” he said. “Your scene partners are going to help you get out of the hole that you just dug yourself into.”   

Covode added that one of her favorite parts about improv is the support that your group gives you. “Nowhere else do people validate you so wholly,” Covode said. “We accept each other’s ideas, draw off what we [say] to each other, to let the scene form as instantly [as] it needs to.”

The show proceeded with the audience suggesting that the cast members use a shovel in a scene. The UTI members mimed a grave-digging scene, jumping when another cast member impersonating a detective jauntily riding a steed demanded to know where another villain was. They played the same scene again, pretending to be corpses, flopping over one another as the detective attempted to have them stay upright, while he handcuffed them. The cast shifted characters again, to people trying to earn favour with the Pope, and then to dancers preparing some special move.

Halfway through the show, the second group trooped on stage and performed ‘long-form,’ a style that builds off from a single suggestion from the audience.

UTI member Rein Irving SC ’20 jumped in, starting a monologue about a tiny old flip cell phone with an antenna and rubber key-pad. Actors then impersonated talking on the phone, miming a long antenna protruding from their head, bending down so that people could speak straight into the antenna.

The scene somehow shifted to a guidance counselor chastising a math teacher for being in contact with aliens, and then shifted to a man throwing a racoon onto the shoulder of the antenna phone, which the actor accompanied with little raccoon noises. The audience broke into applause as the whole cast gathered again and did a series of lines, each describing themselves in the role of a bad mortician.

“I think what I want is to give the audience an engine that helps them escape all this stress and worry – college is [a] stressful environment, and the world is [a] strange place – and just have an hour of pure laughter,” said Covode. “It’s not heavy and deep as some theatre is, and watching a group of people pretend to be aliens or something sounds so ridiculous. But that’s why it helps people release.”

Shahid added that the reason he particularly liked this show was that the scenes were not laden with implicit political connotations.

“They didn’t rely on Donald Trump or any other political figures, which I feel like most comedians do these days,” Shahid said. “Meaning always deepens the show. But, this improv show was just light and funny, and nice because it was different from what people are used to seeing.”