‘I’m falling! I’m falling!” UC Berkeley student Derrek Coleman hollered as his body went limp and gravity pulled him toward the stage floor of Room 101 Moffitt into the arms of his fellow actors.
Coleman’s fall was just one of the many displays of extreme trust and vulnerability exhibited Saturday night during Improv du Jour, a two-day improv festival hosted by Berkeley’s long-form improv team, Jericho!. As the only collegiate long-form improv festival in California, Improv du Jour brought together five long-form teams, including two teams from UC Berkeley, Jericho! and TBD, along with teams from USC, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. Two short-form teams from Berkeley, BSU and Improv 4 Charity, also performed.
After each team showed off its personal improv style Friday night, the troupes were jumbled together to form six completely new groups of six to seven actors. Under the guidance of a previously selected student director, each group prepared for four and a half hours before performing a long-form improv sketch Saturday night. As if standing in front of a live audience without a script, costumes or props and making them laugh were not enough of a challenge, most of the people who performed were working together for the first time.
No one in the audience, however, could have guessed that many of the actors who had them in hysterics the entire evening had not known one another a full 24 hours.
“Improvisers are so ready to accept other people, and touch other people, and do all the things a lot of people aren’t ready to do when they first meet someone,” explained Jericho! producer Cody Reiss after the show. What can be thought of as just fun and games “gets really vulnerable” because by “putting your experiences through the lens of a different character,” you’re communicating how you see the world, he said.
Ben Greene, a member of USC’s Merry Men, agreed, saying that improv actors “tend to be more revealing of their personality; they do make themselves more vulnerable.” Even though as an improv actor “you’re saying things that you’re making up,” you are actually “revealing your sense of humor, where your mind goes to throughout the day,” he said. As a result, “after you’ve been performing improv with people you don’t know for about two hours, you know them really well.”
This spirit of acceptance and openness was revealed throughout the show on a physical and emotional level. Performers left the concept of personal space at the door as one actor became a pair of human overalls, draping his body over a fellow actor’s torso. One of Berkeley’s Jericho! members began a scene by standing in the middle of the stage and spontaneously reciting a monologue about his experience of coming out during his junior year of high school. Elements of this incredibly sincere monologue were then incorporated into a skit that had audience members falling out of their seats.
These moments of utter sincerity, coupled with the actors’ ability to laugh at themselves, left no room for frowns. In one skit, Jericho!’s Peter Alexander and Merry Men’s Greene laughed as hard as the audience did as they engaged in multiple rounds of phone tag with phantom phones. The laughter that infected audience members and actors alike was wildly contagious. But more than just making people laugh so hard they cried, Saturday’s show served as a reminder of the power of vulnerability and acceptance.