The scene begins with the quick toss of a red pocket lighter.
The members of the Rapid Fire Improv group have no script, no clues and no help; yet they transform the simple red item into the inspiration for a full-fledged drama about a broken relationship, burnt hair and a strange arrest.
The improv scenes performed at the group’s practices take suggestions from the members to create intricate stories and complex characters at the drop of a hat – or lighter.
As scenes progress, the members build upon each other’s dramatic choices, creating stories on the spot and trusting their fellow teammates to carry the scenes forward.
The group’s improvisation will be showcased Thursday and will focus on the new members. New members have been practicing with the group since the end of their auditions Oct. 11 and have since been working to integrate into the team.
In the upcoming show, the new members will perform for an audience together for the first time, using different improv games including long-form and short-form scenes, said Landen Baldwin, a fourth-year linguistics student and the captain of Rapid Fire Improv. The scenes can also involve the audience through classic activities like those in the improv comedy show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” in order to provide a starting point.
With more than 40 candidates, Rapid Fire saw its largest pool of applicants this year, said Baldwin, who joined his freshman year. After several improv scenes, callbacks and an additional final cut, only five new members were chosen to join the comedy group.
“What made them really stand out was their ability to be deliberate. None of the five felt like they needed to go out and be goofy and make people laugh,” Baldwin said. “They took their time to create a story and create a scene, but at the same time they were funny.”
Marie Osterman, a first-year theater student and a new member of the Rapid Fire Improv group, said trust between teammates is important for building scenes together in preparation for the show.
Practice has helped the new members develop a sense of rapport with the other members, said Ted Johnson, a fourth-year history student and a new member of Rapid Fire Improv.
In a classroom on the first floor of the Public Affairs building, the Rapid Fire members work on scene building and on-the-spot thinking. The new members are involved in every scene as the group eulogizes made-up superheroes, gives Oscar-winning speeches about everyday actions and holds town hall meetings about tanks that fire cutlery.
During practice, members volunteer to play improv games, said Jeremy Elder, a first-year theater student and new member of the Rapid Fire Improv group. Whether the group is buying tiles as a pretentious Malibu couple or flipping guitar picks in an imaginary bar, the environment is not tense, Elder said, which helps the new members feel more comfortable with the group.
“You’re kind of just doing this free fall and hoping someone knows where you’re falling and has a safety net there for you,” Osterman said.
In one practice scene, an actor stepped to the front of the classroom and held up a plastic bike helmet. A riveting speech followed, showcasing the effectiveness of the newest safety advancement in Honda cars everywhere. As the speech closed, another actor posing as an actual Honda car took over and confessed to anger issues, which have caused it to crash in the past.
Osterman said improv actors have to trust their teammates to carry the scene forward. A connection between members, she said, is necessary to put actors on the same page and to make the scene line up well.
“It’s great sometimes just to see (old members) do scenes or to be in scenes with them because they have more experience,” Osterman said. “It’s exciting to think that maybe we could get there too, and it’s cool to see how they communicate and how well they adapt to their characters.”
Osterman said she is looking forward to the show, which has no script and no plan for its scenes. As a result, the actors will go in with a blank slate and figure it out when they get on stage, Elder said.
“Honestly, you can expect anything; anything can happen,” Osterman said. “It’s a wild night. It’s like prom.”