Cheap Sox improv group to compete for national title
Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 02:12
Tufts’ improv comedy troupe Cheap Sox on Nov. 23 was named champion of the annual New England Regional College Improv Tournament, held this year at Central Square’s ImprovBoston theater.
The troupe will travel to Chicago to compete in the final leg of the competition against other regional victors on March 1.
Cheap Sox member Katie Wartella said the team was very happy to move on to the national competition.
“Previous to a couple weeks ago, the best we’d ever done was getting second [at regionals], so this is super exciting,” Wartella, a senior, said.
The competition, Cheap Sox member and senior Dan Katz-Zeiger said, was created seven years ago by an arts organization called Chicago Improv Productions.
Twelve college teams from all over New England, including troupes from Brown University and Cornell University, competed in this year’s tournament, Wartella said. Troupes were divided into three groups for a preliminary round before the final competition, which was held at midnight. During each round, teams performed 20-minute sets before a panel of judges.
Wartella said that the best part of the tournament was the fact that competing teams were willing to laugh about and enjoy other’s performances.
“It was a really supportive environment,” she said.
In Chicago, Cheap Sox will match up against around 14 other teams from all over the country to compete for the North American Championship trophy, Katz-Zeiger said.
Cheap Sox member Adam Bangser said that the team’s strategy will be to keep up the work they have been doing all semester and stay focused.
“We’re excited just to go there and have the opportunity to perform in the midst of a bunch of fantastic improv,” Bangser, a senior, told the Daily in an email.
Although every show is different, Wartella said, improv troupes rely on two basic improve frameworks — short form and long form. Short-form improv, she said, tends to incorporate games in a “Whose Line Is It Anyway” (1988-1998) fashion. Long form involves creating story lines that eventually tie together, as if one were making up a play on the spot.
While Cheap Sox is generally a short-form troupe, this year the group decided to perform long-form pieces, Wartella said.
“Literally all we went into it knowing was we’re going to do some opening scenes [and] we’re going to do a long form together,” she said.
Wartella added that each of the three judges had a background in improv, ensuring the fairness of the competition. Besides determining which performances were the funniest, the judges were able to critique troupes and provide suggestions for the future.
“[The judges look for] not only what is funny, but what makes a good improv scene,” Wartella said. “A lot of times, you might be watching something and you walk away from it saying, ‘Wow that was really great,’ but you can’t pinpoint why it was great. Having judges who are experienced in improv makes the judging so much more legitimate.”
Wartella admitted that the team is not certain what to expect at the national tournament since the troupe has never participated before, but she and Katz-Zeiger expressed excitement for the opportunity to gain more insight on performance strategies.
“I think it’s going to be a time to see some great improv — to get to learn from other teams, be inspired, get some good notes,” Wartella said. “I think we’re looking at it as an experience to really just learn and grow.”
“Even if we go to Chicago and we don’t come back victorious, we’re going to buy ourselves a big trophy,” Katz-Zeiger added. “So either way we’ll win.”
There are currently seven members on the team, and each participates in every show, Katz-Zeiger said. Wartella added that the group practices six hours a week over three days.
“We try to spend enough time together to get into each other’s heads,” Katz-Zeiger said. “Basically ... being good at improv is just being good friends.”
Wartella and Katz-Zeiger believe that much of the group’s success this year was a culmination of all of the troupe’s training. Bangser added that, this year, the group worked to strengthen its long-form improv abilities and ties between group members.
“We focused on practicing long form with the goal being to make it a strength of our group rather than an occasional enterprise,” he said. “We also just love each other and love to play around on stage.”
Wartella agreed that being close with everyone on the team has been an important factor in the team’s success.
“We all recognize the value of getting to know each other, and trust is a huge thing in improv,” she said. “You have to put yourself out there and trust that another person is going to understand what you’re saying and support you.”