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Improvising 2020: Bowdoin Improvabilities move remote

September 4, 2020

Between a pandemic and a precarious political climate, very little has gone according to plan over the past several months, and the world has had to learn how to improvise. “Improvabilities,”  Bowdoin’s oldest improvisational comedy group, has worked to modify and adapt their craft to suit a remote model.

“For the most part, we’re going to keep the performances coming. We’re gonna keep practicing and keep improving, and continue to have fun as well,” said Niles Singer ’21, a leader of Improvabilities, in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

The group was one of the first to have a remote performance this past spring, after Bowdoin began remote instruction in March.

“We had a blast doing it,” Singer said. “We had a pretty large audience, although it was quite frankly a little strange to be sitting there, kind of chatting with each other with no audience interaction.”

The group decided to hold the performance both as a farewell to their senior leader Brendan Pulsifer ’20, and as a way to lift the spirits of the Bowdoin community.

“We had all just been sent home, and it was obviously a very rough time for many, many people,” said Sophie Bell ’23, another Improvabilities member, in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “We just wanted to do something to make people feel a little happier in the early quarantine time.”

With the capacity to perform restricted over technological platforms, Improvabilities faced a variety of challenges moving remotely.

“When I’m on stage with someone, I’m trying to make as much eye contact as possible,” said Singer. “And when you’re doing characters in a scene, you really have to pay attention to everyone’s subtle body motions because that could really be a driving force in the scene. So it’s difficult to have just the upper body of the person that you’re in a scene with.”

Improvabilities are, once again, dealing with the constraints of a remote semester this fall. The group plans to continue rehearsing and hopefully performing, but they must navigate the technological limitations before they can create comedy.

While the group rehearses over Zoom, they follow a similar structure to their in-person meetings; they start with a brief check-in, followed by a warm-up and a series of improv games.

“Normally, our practices are very physical. It’s a lot of moving around and interacting with each other—getting those body cues and physical cues that normally come with performing and doing on-stage activities. Obviously you can’t do that over Zoom,” said Bell. “So as we’ve been practicing, we’ve had to adapt to taking more verbal cues and taking hints from each other’s facial expressions, much more than we have in the past.”

While the group plans to continue meeting for rehearsals and planning performances throughout the fall, they also hope to spend more time simply crafting a greater sense of community.

“It’s really beneficial to the group to take a step back and to check in with everyone, to spend some time together so that we’re closer and more cohesive as a group, and can thus become better friends but also better improvisers,” said Singer.

Singer mentioned that the group is disappointed that they will be unable to hold auditions this fall.

“It’s not ideal because we really love to have new members,” said Singer. “But because of that, we’re going to be putting a lot more emphasis on more inclusive programming, and that way we can foster more of a comedic and improvisational community on campus, especially [among] first years.”

Improvabilities plan to engage the Bowdoin community in activities such as open rehearsals, comedy nights and a variety of events that allow all students to learn about and participate in improv throughout the semester.

“Obviously, we’re still improvising as we go,” said Bell. “We’re not quite sure what things are going to look like, but it’ll be an interesting semester for us all.”


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