The third annual Lake Effect Improv Festival opened last Saturday, March 22 to a chapel packed with those eager to be awed and humored by extemporized acting. Invited to perform alongside Case Western Reserve University’s IMPROVment, featured groups included Scared Scriptless (a professional troupe from Canton, Ohio), Oberlin’s Kid Business and Ohio State University’s Fishbowl Improv.
The crowd enthusiastically participated in the show at the performers’ behests, offering suggestions for the direction of a given scene. Some simple, some utterly bizarre (e.g., find the Kool-Aid Man’s hidden Lego set), each scenario nevertheless provided an opportunity for the improvisers to demonstrate their adroit sense of timing and interjection within the confines of the short-form genre.
Despite the comedic virtuosity exhibited by all of the groups, the most entertaining performance, unquestionably, was given by none other than CWRU’s own IMPROVment, batting cleanup for the night. The audience’s adoration for these connoisseurs of comedy was made obvious by the cheer used to greet the cast as they took the stage with playful pomp—like a basketball team streaming onto the home court. Our fellow collegians collectively navigated the formal restrictions of various improvisational games with remarkable finesse while maintaining a charming theatrical flair that was goofy yet disciplined.
Although they opened with a rather flat segment, IMPROVment nonetheless managed to execute along an upward slope, with each subsequent scene being more enjoyable than the last. True to this trend, the most memorable moment of the entire night occurred at the conclusion: an impromptu musical number designed to seduce a woman at a RadioShack using Facebook lingo. Indeed, IMPROVment member Tom Burke made his bones during the finale, winning both the girl and the limelight by the song’s conclusion with an exceptional stage presence perhaps rivaled only by Ben Hyams of Kid Business.
Far from being just an opening act, however, Kid Business also succeeded in delivering a delightful show that aroused a response comparable to CWRU’s own offering. Though the smallest in attendance, Kid Business’s four-man crew managed to craft a more personal connection with the audience, responding to input more frequently and eagerly than any other group. Each member’s unique expressive tendencies gave the crowd a personality to latch onto and follow throughout the performance, each crafting an endearing persona to neatly complement the myriad of clever witticisms. Though they may not have been the stars of the festival, Kid Business certainly delivered the most consistent entertainment of the evening, never once allowing the audience a dull moment.
Exhibiting a more pronounced degree of professionalism than the other troupes—and fittingly so—was Scared Scriptless. Their tightly formatted performance demanded that the participating members react quickly and purposefully to convincingly fit an improvised scene within a time limit. The structure was such that, for most of their act, teams of two were paired off to essentially compete against one another, both operating within a common narrative framework. The professional background of this group manifested itself in the composure maintained by each improviser, breaking character far less frequently than the student companies.
Perhaps the most disappointing act, then, was Fishbowl Improv. While the troupe did have its bursts of creative hilarity, its decision to omit the crucial element of audience participation resulted in noticeable droughts during which the cast would struggle to formulate or sustain an original premise on which to improvise. As such, the audience was significantly quieter throughout this performance, ostensibly confused by the ambiguous transitions between scenes that were often frustratingly directionless. Regardless, Fishbowl garnered quite a few laughs with their ludicrous caricatures and absurd narrative dilemmas.
Overall, this year’s Lake Effect featured a commendable assortment of improvisation, avoiding the risk of redundancy with four distinct groups that never seemed to gratuitously rehash the offerings of the others. IMPROVment promised a spectacular outing and delivered nothing less, and in doing so, effectively secured an opportunity for CWRU students to experience off-campus troupes for years to come—a most welcome addition to this university’s cultural traditions.