Seven performers graced the stage of Piano Row’s multi-purpose room, with no scripted material, no planned characters or setting, and absolutely no fear. What ensued was the spontaneity of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” mixed with the wit and cultural relevancy of CollegeHumor.
Swomo, Emerson College’s only combination improv and sketch comedy troupe, put on its last show of the semester Friday. The show, a compilation of long-form and short-form improv comedy, was called, “This One’s for DooDoo Bugs!,” — a jest at troupe member Marc Pierre, who played a DooDoo bug in an Emerson Stage production last semester.
Longform improv is when performers improvise a series of short scenes often interrelated by story, characters, or themes. Swomo kept audiences laughing Friday night as they played out their story, complete with larger-than-life characters, such as a sassy swim coach and a Southern schoolboy who gets called a “scrimper” by his playground bullies.
The troupe ended the night with a tribute to its graduating seniors, Kristen Parker and Marc Pierre, who both participated in a final improv game in which they simulated a cooking show hands-free as their respective partners stood behind them and acted with their arms and hands to create concoctions, such as a pickle drenched in chocolate sauce.
According to Parker, a senior performing arts major and active member of Swomo since her freshman year, seeing this chapter of her life end was surreal.
“It’s a weird feeling knowing that my time with Swomo has come to a close,” said Parker. “I still haven’t really let it sink in.”
Parker and another Swomo member provided one of the funniest jokes of the evening when the two interacted as pretentious yoga gurus eager to chat about their feelings. “Can I talk to you over here?” Parker repeatedly asked to her partner as she dragged him to absurd locations on the stage.
In addition to improv shows, the troupe writes and performs its own sketch comedy, and works with video. Its culminating show for the fall semester was a full-length “chose-your-own adventure” play about electricity and witchcraft. Written and performed by Swomo members, Lights Witch allowed audience members to determine how the plot would unfold.
Parker explains that experimental shows like this are very characteristic of the work Swomo tends to do.
“We like to try stuff that hasn’t really been done,” said Parker. “We don’t just stick to parodies of music videos but, instead, we think outside of the box.”
For Hilton Dresden, a freshman writing, literature, and publishing major and the youngest member of Swomo, being involved in the troupe is about a lot more than just making people laugh. He describes the dynamic between Swomo members as incredibly closeknit and supportive of one another’s endeavors.
“We’re like a family,” said Dresden. “Although each of us have varying styles of comedy, we mesh really well and are all working towards becoming better improvisers and writers.”
Dresden said he was involved in his high school’s improv team, and was quick to join the comedy scene at Emerson upon his arrival. One of the underestimated values of doing improv is its ability to provide mental clarity, he said.
“When you’re doing improv, you don’t have time to plan anything out,” said Dresden. “It requires you to be extremely clear- minded and to get used to acting on your impulses.”
To hone members’ skills, the troupe meets at least twice a week to discuss ideas, play games, and improve its techniques. According to Parker, each week in rehearsal is allocated to work on a specific skill.
“We like to break up improv into what makes good improv, so we can spend our rehearsal time on that,” said Parker.
The set of skills includes developing interesting characters, defining specific locations, and the importance of saying “yes” to a scene partner during improvisation.
There’s also a large amount of trust inherent in being a part of a small improv troupe such as Swomo.
“We are each other’s own best friends on stage,” said Parker. “We’re not just playing for the audience, we’re playing for each other.”