Improv Comedy Groups Play for Laughs

On Thin Ice, Immediate Gratification Players Look for Funny Actors

For an improvisational comedy group, missing a line during a performance can be the key to success.

"Some of our best performances are a result of someone being able to improvise when they've gotten themselves into a bad position," says Charlie B. Grandy '97, co-president of the improv comedy troupe On Thin Ice (OTI).

According to students who have seen the shows, it works.

"The audience is very responsive. OTI is really funny, so there's never any reason not to laugh," says Sarah W. Houghteling '99, who has attended several OTI performances. "It's great."

Along with Harvard's other improv group, the Immediate Gratification Players, OTI's brand of comedy seeks to make its audience laugh through acting games and funny skits.

Members say that On Thin Ice appeals to the "hard-core" actor in people while the Immediate Gratification Players appeal to the Monty-Python admirers in the student body.

OTI tries "to create theatre out of improvisation, instead of going for cheap laughs. Not that anything we do is for cheap laughs," says co-president Don J. Goor '97.

For both groups, ideas for shows are usually derived from books or are inspired from examples of other improvisational comedy troupes, although some of the games are conceived by the members themselves.

IGP also does a theme show once a year, such as a fairytale, which is always original.

Though neither group uses formal scripts during performances, rehearsals are still held to allow cast members to "bond" and to familiarize themselves with the nature of the performance.

The Groups' Histories

According to Grandy, On Thin Ice was established in 1984, although University publications list the group as being nine years old.

Members of the troupe have gone on to such illustrious careers as posing for Playboy "with...clothes on" (which is considered by group members not scandalous enough), writing a script for director Spike Lee, performing in the play "Angels in America" on Broadway and working for Hal Prince, who directs most of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, according to Goor.

Immediate Gratification Players, on the other hand, was founded 10 years ago, and one former member is currently in Hungary teaching English, while another has become a successful consultant.

Both groups agree that female students are underrepresented in improvisational comedy, a problem highlighted by Grandy '97, who exclaims, "Women, please audition!"

OTI now has 11 members, three of whom are female. The group holds semesterly auditions. New members ideally exhibit such qualities as the ability to portray characters and the possession of a sense of humor, Goor says.

At least 80 people auditioned this fall, he says. First round auditions involve performing two improvisational scenes, one with a fellow auditionee and the other with a member of the group. Scene titles often carry a pun like "Room with a View."

Those students who are best able to project their sense of humor are called back for the final cut, which is a three-hour process of elimination involving freeze scenes. Call-backs are "tough but worthwhile," Goor says.

This year, 10 people made callbacks, but both Goor and OTI performer Jordanna M. Brodsky '98 say that very rarely do people get selected the first time they try out, and that people who are interested should keep trying.

Headed by a Tsar, IGP members say they present a more carefree and loose alternative to OTI. Before this year, the group did not hold auditions. But efforts to keep the group small have led to a system of auditions this year. Of the 30 to 40 first-years who auditioned, eight were taken, says Ivan Valasco '98.

According to Valasco, the group chose those who seemed most comfortable with the idea of being silly and who appeared to think independently. IGP's auditions only take place in the fall.

OTI's ultimate dream would be to perform for the Carnival Cruise line, which would take them on a trans-Atlantic cruise, Goor says, but so far nothing definite has been planned. The troupe has very little money to spend on such schemes, mainly because the admission fee to their performance is only one dollar per person.

Whatever money OTI gets from their performances goes towards transportation costs and jackets for the team, although the group has yet to agree on a jacket design. And although some dubious fund-raising schemes were apparently discussed recently, including convincing unsavvy first-years to buy season OTI tickets at $10 each, none have been implemented.

Apart from performing in on-campus venues, they have also been to Yale and are hoping to perform at Wesleyan University, Columbia University and Georgetown University in the future.

Unlike OTI, all admissions to IGP performances are free, and all expenses are either provided for by the members of the troupe or by the organizers who invite IGP to perform.

Traditionally, the troupe has performed in Boylston Auditorium, but they have also travelled to universities such as Tufts, MIT and Amherst to perform.

The group even held a show at Youville Hospital in Cambridge last year. And this year they plan to travel to Canada to perform for the Harvard Club of Montreal and to New Jersey to perform at Princeton University.

So far this year, IGP has not yet put on a performance, although there are plans to stage one sometime in October, according to the Tsar, Daniel S. Quint '97.

OTI may be performing this weekend on Friday and Saturday at the Loeb Experimental Theatre.