When the nine members of Georgetown Improv Association gather on Monday nights, it’s not to hang out with friends — as much as it may seem like it.
The chemistry is obvious. As the members — Connor Rohan (COL ’16), Joe Luther (COL ’16), Gabe Bolio (SFS ’18), Alex Mitchell (COL ’18), Thomas Moakley (SFS ’17), Daniel Graff (SFS ’16), Caitlin Cleary (COL ’16), Marcus Lustig (COL ’19) and Megan Howell (COL ’18) — trickle in one by one, friendly conversation gives way to a series of exercises meant to prepare the members to stand on stage and give a hilarious and memorable performance. It’s unclear when rehearsal actually begins, as even their everyday conversation is funny.
At the same time, they take their craft seriously. As lighthearted as improv rehearsal is, the group’s members listen carefully to each other, offering criticism and praise.
It is clear that this atmosphere of friendship and respect is critical to improv, short for improvisational theater. But unlike the word “theater” suggests, there is nothing staged about an improv show: There are no costumes, no specialized lighting or special effects, and there is especially no script.
The Georgetown Improv Association, founded by Chris Fosdick (SFS ’98) in 1995, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend with a reunion performance Oct. 11. The show, which will feature current members and more than 30 alumni members, will be “a celebration of comedy at Georgetown,” according to Moakley. Tickets cost $20.
“Imagine a stage populated with the quirkiest, weirdest, most hilarious people this school has turned out in the last 20 years,” Cleary said. “If you like the current team, please know that we are but the tiniest, most recent gargoyle on the Gothic cathedral that is the improv team, the older alums are astronomically more deserving of your money and time.”
“Each member of the team had the honor of making people laugh or at least chuckle a little while they were here at Georgetown,” Moakley said.
“Also, they gave us Gonda Theater,” said Luther. “What could possibly go wrong?”
For the Georgetown Improv Assocation, a typical show may begin with one-word prompts solicited from the audience; the words themselves vary from “turtle” to “quinoa” to “Freud.” Without props or costumes, the players must make it abundantly clear where they are and what they are doing. Characters are assigned on the spot, and setting is determined as the story develops. Ed Herro (COL ’99), one of the group’s founding fathers, described it in an email as “creating something from nothing, without a preconceived idea of what it will or should be.”
While its shows have recently entertained large crowds eager for a laugh, the group faced opposition at its conception. Soon after its establishment, the founding members butted heads with Georgetown’s administration.
“The administration didn’t want us branching out and doing improv or sketch outside of their control,” Fosdick said. “They actively tried to stop us, even off campus. They sometimes succeeded — that was disheartening.”
But beyond the technicalities of forming a new club on campus, the newly founded association faced the challenge of finding its style. To begin with, the Georgetown Improv Association was doing long-form improv at a time when most colleges, and even most professional improv groups, had stuck to short-form.
Long-form is more challenging, according to Fosdick. Short-form consists of a series of games, each 3 to 5 minutes long. Long-form, on the other hand, has no rules and requires each player to build upon an existing story.
“Presenting yourself in a comedic capacity is very vulnerable,” Cleary said. “For that reason, comedy is more subjective than other forms of art. You might not like Whitney Houston’s music, for example, but you can’t deny the impressiveness of her vocal range. With a stand-up comedian on the other hand, it’s almost impossible to respect the artist if you don’t like his or her sense of humor.”
Long-form is still the standard format of the Georgetown Improv Association’s shows despite the challenges it presents. According to Luther, one of this year’s team directors, the team succeeds at these scenes because of the chemistry between its members.
“The most successful teams are ones whose members know and trust each other,” Luther said. “Having an understanding of each person’s mode of operation makes for strong scenes and strong shows.”
Rohan said he loves to swap ideas with other members during rehearsal each week.
“I get to explore bizarre ideas for multiple hours a week with some of the quickest, funniest people at Georgetown,” Rohan said.
Dynamic is paramount to a successful show, according to Luther. To foster a synergistic group dynamic, the team focuses on socialization outside of rehearsal. Just this summer, the team joined Moakley at his home in Cape Cod, Mass.
At the end of the day, the improv team is more than just a comedy troupe to many of its members. Bolio and Mitchell are roommates. Luther and Rohan currently serve as president and vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association.
“All of the boys [are] like my bratty brothers and they tease me and tickle me and annoy me and don’t listen to anything I say. I would never trade them for the world,” Cleary said. “If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’re all obsessed with improv. It’s addictive. It’s cathartic. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.”
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.