Collaborative improv show rocks the house

By Michelle Frett
Correspondent

The Mixed Signals and other local comedy troupes drew plenty of laughs at the fourth annual ROCK improvisation festival. (Photo by Colleen Duncan)

Who’s Charlie?

This question was a source of much amusement on the night of Saturday, March 31 in Kendall Hall at the fourth annual Mixed Signals’ comedy improvisation festival — ROCK, a.k.a. Rather Outrageous Comedy Kickout.

The festival consisted of four different troupes — A4Effort from Rutgers University, The Mixed Signals, TCNJ Alumni of Mixed Signals and the professionals, Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company.

In a favorite act of the evening, senior psychology major John Eldis played the role of Charlie, a man who was injured from a car accident resulting with his arms permanently frozen above his head. Underscored by the hearty laughter of those in the audience, Charlie repeatedly twisted his body into outlandish positions attempting to pet the dog “Scruffy” played by a fellow improv performer.

The “Charlie game” epitomized a show of surprising events and uninhibited commitment by college and professional actors completely based on audience suggestions. As the website for the festival says, “No scripts. No skits.”

“You just can’t make this kind of stuff up,” said Melanie Gioisia, junior psychology major.

The Rutgers troupe, A4Effort, started off the festival lead with the animated Alex Puhalla. The first game was promising with the prompt by the audience for a “Transformers” themed scene. Rather than going down the expected path with alien robots, the troupe played off the idea of ordinary people “transforming” into someone else.

Later in the troupe’s line of games, Bryton McGrath of Rutgers University was particularly funny in his portrayal of a mystical creature from Narnia trying to attract the attention of a centaur.

Following A4Effort, the College veterans of the Mixed Signals took the stage incorporating a series of bank themed games, such as one titled “Wachovia” referencing the recent name change of the chain to “Wells Fargo.” A hit with the audience was their portrayal of two grandmothers discovering the Internet for the first time.

“The trick is to start with http: slashy-line slashy-line,” one of the grandmothers explained.

The current Mixed Signals took the stage after the alumni. Sophomore nursing major Nina Shulgach made a strong impression on the crowd with her rendition of a Star Wars jedi knight who wants to switch allegiance to Star Trek. Seniro women’s and gender studies major Liz So, a member of the troupe as well as the festival’s emcee, also was charming as a jedi knight who could not stop dancing.

After a brief intermission, which was shortened from 15 to 10 minutes after Eldis’ comment that 15 seemed “excessive,” the headlining UCB Tour Company took over the stage.

UCB Touring Company is based in New York City and Los Angeles. According to its online profile, “This is the home of the best touring company in America. Mainstream comedy is for jerks.” The company runs a number of improv shows, including “Improv Idol” which searches for the best amateur improv actor at schools across the country.

Hannah Adamy, junior music major, was called onstage from the audience by the three men of the UCB Touring Co, for a personal interview reminiscent of the acts of ABC Family’s Whose Line is it Anyway? Flying off her encounter with bats in Centennial Hall, the actors cleverly formed a scenario in which there was a rampant “Batman” infestation that had to be resolved.

The UCB Touring Company put on an inspiring performance for the younger troupes to enjoy and learn from. Regardless, the image that remained in many of the audience’s minds was of Charlie trying desperately to pet the sad dog “Scruffy.”

As Sarah Joila, sophomore English major, said, “The scenes turn out so clever sometimes you wonder how it’s possible it isn’t scripted.”