On Wednesday nights in Gerber Hall, room 215, a band of Babson students gathers for rehearsal. The students, members of the improv comedy troupe Students Against Gravity, are a rambunctious group. Sometimes they grow a bit loud. Many times they succumb to silliness.
“This is about people who want to come together and be goofy,” says Kai Haskins ’18. Frankly, he believes some goofiness is needed. “People are so focused. They take everything so seriously,” Haskins says. “I think it’s important to take a moment and be foolish.”
A group of friends formed the ensemble, its name a nod to Roger Babson’s obsession with gravity, in spring 2016. Since then, they have performed regular shows at Roger’s Pub & Grille. “We’re going to hang out and be funny no matter what,” says Katherine Will ’18. “We might as well entertain people at the same time.”
Catch one of the group’s shows, and you’ll see comedy created and performed in the moment without the aid of a script. As audience members shout out suggestions, the improvisers may pretend to be Dating Game contestants, or perform a fake movie, or run through a skit called Weekend at Bernie’s, in which cast members die off one by one, until only one person is left to portray all the roles.
These out-on-a-limb performances take courage. Mistakes are routine. “All of us have made jokes that don’t land,” Haskins says. “You have to power through it. If you mess up, just wait 45 seconds for someone else to mess up.” A favorite quote of Max Mendelsohn ’18 is playwright Samuel Beckett’s famous ode to failure: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” It makes a fitting battle cry for improvisation.
For Mendelsohn, improv serves as a crucial break in his day-to-day routine. “It’s a stress reliever,” he says. “I need the escape.” When done right, improv forces performers to be present. There is no time for doubt, discussion, or hesitation on stage. If performers have an idea during a scene, they shouldn’t mull it over. “Just throw it out there,” Mendelsohn says. “Don’t think about it.”
Students Against Gravity is sponsored by The Empty Space Theater, a Babson theater group, and its faculty advisor is Sandra Graham, associate professor of ethnomusicology. Graham hopes the dozen or so student improvisers in the troupe will continue to develop as performers. This semester, Larry Coen, a Boston improv comedian and actor, will run the group’s rehearsals. “I would like to see Students Against Gravity grow into a troupe of performers who know and trust each other completely, so that they take ever greater risks,” says Graham.
While performing improv has the added bonus of sharpening many critical business skills, such as adaptability, communications, and creativity, students find great joy in one skill in particular: making people laugh. To face a room full of strangers, who are staring at you and waiting in anticipation, and make them burst into laughter is an amazing experience. “It’s a top-of-the-world feeling,” Mendelsohn says.—JC