Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Laura Frustaci - Story of Us

If a comedian tells a joke in the forest… Does anyone laugh?

Or, what is the point of insular, goofy, seemingly meaningless comedy that has no preparation, no documentation, apparently no lasting effect or residue? This is the question I’m preparing to answer, in the hopes that the past three years of performing improv comedy in Leverett G-Hutch with eleven other students hasn’t been completely fruitless.

There are four principles of improvisation, according to Tina Fey's memoir Bossy Pants. Of course the rules of improv are negotiable and breakable depending on the scenario, but they provide helpful guidelines for moving scenes forward. 
1. Say "Yes!"
2. Say "Yes, and..."
3. Make statements.
4. There are no mistakes. 
"Yes, and" is probably the most important (and most well-known) of these rules, because it allows improvisers to build a world together. If you offer a suggestion to your scene partner and they immediately reject the reality of the world you have proposed, that is both a) Frustrating for you, because you have to start all over again and b) Not funny or enjoyable for an audience to watch (it will likely just confuse them). 

On Thin Ice is Harvard’s oldest improvisation group. We are the only short form improv group on campus, focusing on building comedic skill by quickly developing premises and expanding them through various games in the style of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Each game depends on an audience suggestion, collected by asking audience members questions such as “What is something you wouldn’t want to find in your soup?” or “What is something that can fit inside of a microwave?” 

We are also the only group on campus that performs musical improv; at any point during a scene our group’s pianist can call out “Sing it!” and the actors must immediately perform an improvised song based around their last sentence (with the pianist improvising accompaniment). During practices, we work on cultivating skills such as establishing who, what, and where, grounding scenes in reality, coming up with rhyming couplets for our songs, creating larger-than-life characters, and most importantly, finding the game within a scene. 

OTI performs shows on campus once every few weeks. We hold auditions once a year, and newest members are immediately put to the test in our famous Trial By Fire show. All new members, having only had one practice, must perform in every game. The games we play vary show to show, but our repertoire includes: Four Corners, Sing It!, Freeze, Party Quirks, Interrogation, La Ronde, Should’ve Said, Puppet, Good Bad Worse, and many more. 

The nature of our shows is extremely fast-paced, and no show ever looks the same. Because of the game structure, our style of improv allows for the most variety within a show, which means the audience (and sometimes group members) are frequently caught off-guard with unexpected and hilarious twists and turns. 

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