In a performance showcasing a mix of games and skits, from Mad-Libs scenes to musical numbers, a troupe of seven comedians kept audience members and actors alike on their toes.
Without a Box, a 5C improvisational comedy troupe, performed at Walker Coffeehouse on Oct. 15. Sponsored by the Office of Campus Life, Walker Coffeehouse is a weekly student-run program that takes place in Pomona College’s Walker Lounge. Each week at the coffeehouse, students are treated to open-mic entertainment and homemade desserts.
really excited to have them come,” Walker Coffeehouse staff member Kirsten Tingle PO ’18 said. “They’re incredibly talented, and it’s so nice to relax with
some comedy during midterm week.”
The troupe comprises seven performers: Director Joseph Reynolds PO ’15, Pianist
Wes Haas PO ’15, Jessica Kremer SC ’16, Matthew Roberts PZ ’16, Daniel Weinand
PO ’16, Davis Menard PO ’17 and Bennett Sorensen PZ ’17. Without a Box also has
two producers, Pamela Ng SC ’16 and Maggie Tebogo-Maruping SC ’16.
The group varied its performance techniques and approaches throughout the show, using a mix of styles to provide an engaging set.
In “Ding,” non-performing players watched the improvisers in a scene and responded with a disapproving “Neh” to words they didn’t like. When the improviser chose one they liked, the non-performer would respond with an affirmative “Ding,” allowing the scene to progress.
The group then called upon Haas’s piano skills in a musical game called “Piano Torture.” A group of improvisers would start a scene. If Haas continued to play during the scene, the improviser had to begin singing his lines until it stopped. Haas quickly transitioned between different chords and styles of music, keeping the sketch fast-paced.
The final game of the night was “Teleprompter,” in which each improviser had a designated person fill in the ‘blanks’ in a scene’s dialogue. The improviser had to justify the person’s word choice. The word usually had a double meaning, leading to many humorous possibilities for how the scene could play out.
“The fluidity with which they performed was incredible,” said Jacob Feord PO ’18, who hadn’t seen the group perform until this coffeehouse. “I’d definitely be interested in going to more of their shows.”
While Without a Box made the improvisation look effortlessly hilarious, Roberts said that the rehearsal process involved lots of hard work. Since the fast-paced nature of the games requires so much mental acuity, focus is a necessary component for the show’s success.
The group has an impressive stock of warm-up games to prepare for a show. Rhyming games help the improvisers think on their toes, make quick connections between words and adjust to changes in rhythm. Question-and-answer sessions encourage members to come up with the most creative answers possible. To cap off a warm-up, they come up with a group chant.
The warm-up serves as a stress-reliever, easing any pre-show jitters and allowing members to explore nuanced styles of comedy without the pressure of a performance.
“More recently, we’ve been warming up by going out into the audience and playing characters that have some kind of adjective associated with them,” Roberts said. “For example, we might try an ‘excitable grandma.’ Then we change to another character on the fly.”
While rehearsals and scheduled warm-ups are important, improvisation ultimately relies on collaboration and spontaneity, and the team members’ camaraderie enables them to pull it off extremely well. The group is always trying new things, whether it’s a new game, warm-up or venue.
Earlier in the academic year, the group performed at “SUDS: A Soapy Pre-Foam Comedy Show,” a prelude to the Foam Party at Harvey Mudd College. After an additional round of auditions in October, the troupe kicked off its official season at the coffeehouse and will continue to perform at school-wide events throughout the winter and spring terms.
“It was definitely different to perform at Walker because we’re used to performing on a bigger stage and to a more distinct audience,” Sorensen said. “But I think the laid-back style is definitely something in which we can grow and prosper.”
Roberts enjoyed performing at the coffeehouse as well and would be interested in doing additional shows there. In his opinion, future audience members shouldn’t be surprised to see such shows that differ from the comedic standard. And for those who saw their particular brand of entertainment that night, the event provided an opportunity to become acquainted with 5C comedy.
“It was nice to just immerse yourself in the ridiculousness of the skits,” Feord said. “It was perfect for a Wednesday night and, paired with the low-key nature of the coffeehouse, made for a fantastic night.”