When it comes to the sport of improvisation, senior theater majors Nate Coder and Daryl Hollonquest joined the big league in Indianapolis. The league is a group called ComedySportz
ComedySportz is an improv group who performs Massachusetts Ave. every weekend. According to the group’s Facebook page, the group was started in 1984. Hollonquest said the group in Indianapolis started in 1993 and is one of the 24 groups worldwide.
Improv is, according to Coder, “Acting with no script.” The members of ComedySportz are split into two teams: a red team and a blue team. The teams are given a challenge, have to perform a scene or play a game.
Sometimes audience members are selected to choose a game or are brought up on stage to participate. The audience members are also the ones who usually choose which team is the funniest, and that team earns points. Whichever one has the most points by the end is the winner of the match. There is also a referee who is in charge of calling fouls and rewarding points. The members go on stage with no plan and no idea of what they are going to do. Coder says that this is what makes performing improv so exciting.
“The funny thing about improv is, even though you’re the one up there doing it and you have control of where the scene goes,” he said, “you’ll end up surprising yourself half the time with where the scenes end up going or with what your partners end up saying … So it’s just as entertaining and surprising for the people on the stage as it is for the people of the audience.”
Hollonquest had an interest in improv in high school and decided to join Fun Monkey, his high school Warren Central’s improv group his senior year. It was here he gained experience. At the end of his freshmen year at the University of Indianapolis, he auditioned for ComedySportz.
Coder, who was also a part of Fun Monkey, had heard about ComedySportz at Warren Central and auditioned last year. He was selected to join ComedySportz and had his first show on Saturday, August 9. Coder and Hollonquest said when auditioning, they have to show that they are quick on their feet and can switch to different characters quickly. Coder described one exercise where he had a minute to perform on stage. Every 10 seconds of that minute, a whistle was blown, and when the whistle was blown, he had to change into a different character immediately.
Hollonquest said that while anyone can audition, not nearly everyone gets selected. He estimated that out of the 40 people who auditioned the day he did, only about seven people were selected.
“I think ComedySportz has a good balance of knowing who has the skills, who has the ability and the talent to do what we do,” he said.
Hollonquest said on the nights of the shows, the players arrive at the location around 7 p.m. This is also when the doors open for the guests. The players hang out with each other, change in the locker room and then meet for warm-ups to make sure everyone is in sync with one another. Hollonquest said the bond between the players is very important to the show and how well everyone performs.
“If you’re not friends with someone you’re performing with it’s not going to work as well as when you’re with someone that you know that you click with,” he said.
The players then go out at 7:30 p.m. and the match begins. There is also a match at 10 p.m. Both Coder and Hollonquest said that while improving and acting are two different art forms, one can support the other.
“When you go on stage for a play, you know exactly what you’re going to be doing,” Coder said. “But you also always know there is the chance that something is going to go wrong, and you have to be able to roll with it and make it work if something should happen. So in a way, the improv experience helps that and vice versa … With improv, you go on stage embracing the uncertainty. With acting, you go on stage embracing the consistency.”
According to Hollonquest, there is also a big difference in how one prepares in improv and how one prepares in acting. He said actors “rehearse,” but improv players “practice.”
“What we [the players] do is practice,” he said. “It’s not rehearsal because rehearsal implies you’re doing the same thing over and over again, and then when you have an audience or a crowd, you’re going to do that same thing. Like basketball players, they don’t rehearse. They practice the shooting, they practice dribbling, they practice running, but when they get on the court, they don’t know what’s going to happen … It’s the same method with improv almost.”
Coder said techniques the group members have to practice and develop on include building a strong theme for a scene, how to think outside of the box and make unique choices and expanding and building on a story one person has set up.
Besides being a great experience and gaining new skills, Coder and Hollonquest said that being a part of ComedySportz has been a great source for networking. Both described how people who are involved with theater are a part of ComedySportz as well as a broad range of other workers such as mechanics, restaurant workers and teachers. They said that each person has different experiences and connecting with them can present new opportunities. Coder also said members of the audience sometimes work in theater and approach people for jobs.
While anyone can audition for ComedySportz, Hollonquest said people who are interested have to be committed and confident in order to stand out.
“For people who want to do ComedySportz, be available and bring your A-game,” he said.
Coder also said confidence is a necessity when it comes to improv.
“The best advice is just do it,” he said. “Don’t second guess yourself. If it’s something you feel like you want to do, why not give it a shot?”
ComedySportz’s next match will be held Friday, August 22 at the Carmel Community Center because Indy Fringe will be at their use location. The doors open at 7 p.m. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. On Saturdays, the late shows begin at 10 p.m. On Thursdays, all seats are $10. From Friday to Saturday, all shows are $16 for adults and $14 for students and seniors. Tickets are sold online or at their ticket hotline. ComedySportz’s next audition will be Saturday, August 30 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found at indycomedysportz.com, the ComedySportz Indianapolis Facebook page or @IndyCSz on Twitter.