Julia Waldow | Arts Assistant
“What are seven things you would say to your dog when you want him to pee outside? What are seven things you’d say to reject my advances? What are seven things I’d find in your trash can?”
Gathered in a tight circle, each improv actor in the group Fools on the Hill rattles off answers to one of the questions, transforming the beginning of Sunday’s late-night rehearsal into a test of quick comedic thinking, rapid dialogue and speedy reflexes. While the group’s skits and warm-ups serve as entertainment, they also allow the performers to explore the importance of bonds among both the Fools and their characters.
“You kind of do improv all the time in everyday interactions. You sit down with somebody and have a relationship and develop an interpersonal dynamic,” Max Dugan ’14, who became a Fool as a sophomore, said. “That’s very fun to do in an environment where you have total freedom to go wherever you want.”
The Fools emphasize dynamic and memorable character interaction in all of their skits. When performing, members refrain from using movie plots or referencing common cultural references, instead placing the sole focus on a correspondence and its emotional undertones.
“Every scene should be about the relationship between two people,” Mike Jest ’15, who joined the group last year, said. “So, [if there’s] a problem with a bike [two people are] trying to fix, no one goes to an improv show [saying], ‘I hope they fix that bike.’ It’s more interesting to say, ‘It’s a father and son working on a bike. What is their relationship? Why is it important for them to fix this bike?’ It’s the human drama that’s more interesting.”
The Fools begin every show by taking an audience’s suggestion for a monologue topic — like the aforementioned “dog” — that can later be used as a springboard for more complex scenes about detailed themes.
“[The use of the word] is the biggest misconception [about our shows],” Jest said. “People will come up to you and be like, ‘Hey, the show wasn’t all about dogs.’ We use the monologue as inspiration. Maybe Max [Dugan] tells a sad story about a dog, and what we get out of it is loss, so that could be a theme for the show.”
Members believe the most successful performances involve an actor’s total and complete immersion in a scene and commitment to an idea.
“When it’s really good improv, you’re sort of unconscious and not thinking. It’s just pure reaction to what your partner is doing,” Jest said. “You can think of a few scenes where you were so into it [and] it was the easiest thing in the world and so fun to do. In a way, in every scene, you’re trying to get back to that.”
To accomplish this goal, the Fools utilize skill sets they have developed during Sunday night rehearsals in Ascension Hall.
“What we basically do in practice is develop good habits, like looking your partner in the eye, entering a scene with a positive note, saying the person’s name at the beginning of a scene and having strong characters,” Dugan said. “Nothing is written beforehand, and the best you can do is have good structure because you’ve done it before.”
While the Fools use practice sessions to fine-tune their communication skills, they also use the time to swap jokes and have fun.
“We mostly look for people who are funny, fun and interesting,” Dugan said. “The people who get in every year are the people who have a fun time. That’s way more attractive to us than someone who’s nervous and trying to do all the little things right.”
Spending time together both on- and off-stage, the group is dedicated to maintaining a solid dynamic and camaraderie with one another.
“The people are so welcoming and family-like that it really does create a sense of comfort,” Dugan said. “Fools is very much a family. We hang out with each other and confide in each other. Everyone in Fools is one of my best friends, and that really is conducive to doing improv well together.”