For improv artists performing in front of an audience, their every word and move is open to scrutiny. But despite the public nature of their art, the innards of improv subculture are largely hidden. Until now.
On one end of the spectrum of improv actors is Mike Lane, a senior international relations and history major and director of Birdstrike Theatre. The acting troupe has grown every year since its inception in 2005, though Lane has grander plans that may cause friction with anti-establishmentarian fans.
“Ten years down the road, I hope Birdstrike becomes a Davis institution,” Lane said. “I hope it continues and every year we continue a tradition of top notch long-form improv and sketch comedy.“
To help establish Birdstrike’s reign over comedy in Davis, they began a guerilla improv campaign this quarter. Their most recent was a faux-breakdance session outside the Memorial Union, which was met with amusement and some confusion.
“Lately, we’ve been filming for one of our videos and we’re trying to include everyone on campus,” he said. “We have a hardcore rap in the middle.“
Without a rival improv group on campus, Birdstrike frequents the Sacramento Comedy Spot to battle other troupes. The lack of rivalries on campus has forced Lane to challenge Birdstrike rejects to channel their anger and disappointment toward forming another comedy group.
“I wish there were more rivalries or other groups in general,” Lane said.
Most dedicated improv actors like Lane have made the pilgrimage to Chicago. Lane and five others in Birdstrike plan to move there to start improvising on a professional level.
“That’s the comedy mecca,” Lane said. “That’s where all the big names have gone through, through institutions like Second City and Improv Olympics.“
Not all improvisational artists seem as driven as Lane, and one need not look further than Birdstrike improv coach and senior history and English major Micah Chavin.
“[Lane] does it most of the time,” Chavin said, referring to improv exercises. “I just run warm-ups and have exercises to help teach some tools for improv.“
Chavin helped organize a class on improv taught through the Davis People’s Free School. While there were some organizational problems and the complaint that the class was “hidden in the Domes,” a small group of interested locals came by.
“I was fine with five or six,” Chavin said. “It’s usually better to do small groups so more people have a chance to play.“
Some students enjoy improv recreationally but aren’t quite as excited as Lane or as serious as Chavin. Instead, they fall into the category of excited newbs that just want to have fun. The newly formed UC Davis IM Improv was created for such students who want to live out their own “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” without the pressures of performing in front of people.
“It’s just for our own entertainment,” said co-founder Alissa Kolom, a junior political science major. “Instead of going home and watching ‘House,‘ you get to see people who you don’t know very well perform.“
IM Improv group co-founder Alison Depsky, a junior biological sciences major, overcame past trauma to jump into improv, something she said she has “always thought looked fun.“
“I was in a Mouseketeers musical when I was five,” she said. “But I hated it.“
Now, Depsky hopes to spread the laughter with others in the IM Improv group, which has about 30 Facebook group members. In fact, Depsky said she finds humor all over everyday life in Davis.
“[The funniest thing about Davis is] wondering how many people have had moral quandaries on whether they should intervene upon witnessing duck rape,” she said.
CHRIS RUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org