The University of Maine’s student-run improv group, Improv In Sanity, held tryouts for new members on Thursday, Jan. 28 in the Black Box Theater of the Class of 1944 Hall.
The tryouts were scheduled to increase membership and raise awareness of the group, according to Hannah Waters, a third-year international affairs student and director of the group.
“We really like to see people who are open to suggestions, who are willing to put themselves out there, and be comfortable on stage by doing silly, goofy and ridiculous things,” Waters said.
Instead of a traditional audition format, students trying out for the group were integrated into the group’s regular Thursday rehearsal schedule.
“We want to create a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere for them with no pressure,” Waters said.
Elizabeth Martin-Huitt, a fourth-year philosophy and political science student, had experience in improv since middle school before trying out.
“I don’t think you can go in with expectations with improv. If you go in with expectations, you set yourself up to fail,” Martin-Huitt said.
Martin-Huitt wanted to return to improv after balancing a busy work and school schedule leading into her senior year.
“College is so stressful, you need to do something to release or you’ll spontaneously combust,” Martin-Huitt said.
Improv In Sanity is divided into two separate groups — the performance group, which consists of students who participate in the bulk of performances and the club group, which consists of new students who participate in a few smaller performances.
“The club group is used to develop the basic skills of improv. A lot of people get into improv think it’s about telling jokes, but it’s not. It’s about developing funny characters and situations. We use the club group to stop those bad habits,” Waters said.
Students who wish to be part of the performance group must typically be part of the club group for at least one semester.
Improv games at the tryouts included a real estate agent and client role play and invisible object description in order to create on-the-spot humor.
“It’s great to learn from different people with different styles of humor,” Martin-Huitt said.
Katelyn Brown, a first-year biology student, had theater experience dating back to the sixth grade and improv experience since the eighth grade before entering the tryouts.
“I love everything with theater, and I like to make new friends, especially since I’m a first year,” Brown said.
Brown added that improv has helped her think on her feet and be more comfortable in public situations.
“It’s just so comedic,” Brown said. “It’s made me not afraid to try new things.”
Improv In Sanity’s performance group generally holds two or three shows in residence halls a semester, and two larger shows at the end of the semester in the Black Box Theater.
This is Waters’ first semester as director. She was rejected twice before making it into the performance group.
“For me, it’s really helped with my confidence and talking to people. I was really shy when I first got to school, so the group helped me communicate better and try new things. It’s also been really cool to see myself grow. Now I’m the director of the club. I never thought that could happen,” Waters said.
Looking forward, Waters said that she would like to see the group do more in the Orono and Old Town communities and go to more competitions. The group occasionally attends an improv conference in Boston.
While Martin-Huitt and Brown had experience on stage prior to trying out, Waters said that at least half of the group’s current members had never been part of theater or had only minimal experience before joining.
“It can actually be kind of better to have people with no background, because they start from zero and don’t have any bad habits you have to work on,” Waters said.
Waters said that everyone should be open to the benefits of doing improv.
“You never know what you can do. It’s really relaxed, it’s not intense, you don’t have to have anything memorized,” Waters said.
“I tried out because I love to laugh,” Martin-Huitt said. “And who doesn’t love to laugh?”