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UCB touring company takes improv to the Hill

On Friday, Feb. 3, a touring company from renowned New York City-based comedy group Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), performed improv comedy at Rosse Hall.

The four performers — Lily Du, Caitlin Erin Puckett, Rekha Shankar and Lui Vega — began the show with crowdwork, asking the audience about Kenyon and its various quirks. They selected one audience member to interview on stage, questioning Samantha Leder ’17 about a ghost in her dorm room and other aspects of her life at Kenyon. Using the Kenyon-specific references they had gathered, the group performed long-form improv. Topics included the Archon Society, Kenyon hauntings, Allison Janney ’82 and marijuana. The group especially made fun of Peirce Pub and its supposed inferiority to the recently razed Gambier Grill — commonly called the Cove.

This Kenyon-specific feeling was one of UCB’s primary goals for the performance, which was sponsored by Social Board.

“We want [the audience] to see us be able to use parts of their school and see that incorporated into a show,” Lily Du said in an interview with the Collegian. “We want it to feel personalized to them.”

Shows at Upright Citizens Brigade’s comedy club in New York  City are very different. “The majority of crowds we have in New York are probably other improvisers and improv students so there is a huge difference,” Puckett said.

The Upright Citizen’s Brigade comedy troupe began in 1990 in Chicago and later relocated to New York City; the group has also expanded  to Los Angeles. Original members include comedians Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh.

The performers who came to Kenyon seemed excited to be touring together. “I think there’s something to going out to perform the thing you love in places you’ve never been. It’s really exciting and not something I ever anticipated being able to do in my life,” Shankar said.

Kenyon students also seemed to enjoy UCB’s visit, though attendance was not high with only about half of Rosse’s seats filled. “Honestly I expected more people to be in the troupe,” Jessie Griffith ’19 said. “I was a little bit surprised that they were able to do so much with only four people.”

Vega led a small improv workshop a few hours before their main show. The workshop included members of Kenyon’s two improv comedy groups, Fools on the Hill and the Ballpit Whalers. It began with simple exercises to help the improvisers pay attention to one another, then Lui had the Kenyon students perform full scenes. In one scene, Jeffrey Searls ’19 and Kathleen Duffy ’20 — members of Fools on the Hill — played children chopping vegetables while arguing about their parents. Other subjects covered included tiny elephants and enormous ostriches.

This was the first time the Ballpit Whalers and Fools on the Hill practiced together. Justin Martin ’19, one of the founders of the Ballpit Whalers, appreciated the chance to work with a professional. “Improv scenes have this tendency to become this long train of weird stuff,” Martin said.  “Like it’s not enough for there to be vampires. There have to be, like, French vampires in space on a canoe owned by Frederick Douglass. So being able to condense scenes and focus on the one thing that is tense-filled or unusual or strange or odd about them is great.”

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