Spotlight: Winging it

An empty stage, a spotlight, hundreds of scrutinizing eyes on the faces of rowdy college students and no script.

While such a scenario may strike fear in the hearts of most GW students, to the members of GW’s only improv/sketch comedy group, Recess, it is all in a day’s work.

“When you get on stage and are doing well and people are laughing, its just so much fun,” said two-year Recess member sophomore Adam Riedel.

The group performs four different styles of comedy: sketches, long-form improv, short-form improv and videos.

Long-form improv is Riedel’s favorite format.

For this type of improv, the audience gives a suggestion and the group builds a 15 to 20 minute scene around it. Riedel said this form of improv is more difficult than the others, but it can also be much funnier.

“Recess is one of only a few college groups to do it,” he said.

Riedel described short-form improv as the type seen on ABC’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” Scenes which group members act out spontaneously are built around a pre-determined subject from the audience.

“It is kind of like a game,” he said.

The group also performs pre-written sketches like ones seen on “Saturday Night Live.”

“All of the members can write sketches, and we vote on which we will perform,” Riedel said.

The group’s short videos are a mixture of written material and improvisational lines on tape.

Along with being funny, being a good listener is an important characteristic of an improv artist, Riedel said, because there are no scripts or props.

“When you are building a scene, you have to remember if someone said there is a table or something,” Riedel said.

Riedel said being comfortable onstage is key to improv success, and an outgoing personality is not a necessity.

“I don’t consider myself to be outgoing; you just have to be comfortable on stage,” Riedel said.

As for stage fright, he said he felt nervous for his first show, but after performing a few times it became easier.

Although every once in a while a performer freezes on stage, Riedel said the group’s members can rely on each other to help them out.

“If someone blanks out, the other person will pick up and keep the scene going,” Riedel said. “Once you have more time you usually collect yourself again.”

Sophomore member Natalie Solomon said she gets never nervous during a performance.

“I really enjoy the pressure,” Solomon said. “I get a rush from it.”

Solomon has been a part of Recess since her freshman year. She said she enjoys Recess as an extra-curricular activity and she does not plan to perform after college.

Solomon said she enjoys getting up in front of an audience and being silly.

“You have to be able to throw lines quickly and build scenes through character development,” Solomon said

She said her favorite part about Recess is audience participation.

Solomon swears they never plant suggestions with audience members before to a show. Therefore, every show has a different twist because of the varying different suggestions the audience volunteers.

One of the finest qualities about Recess is the group’s ability to make improv look effortless. In reality, it takes hours of practice, dedication and a clever disposition to be prepared for anything.

“We practice Monday through Thursday, from 10 p.m. until 12 a.m.,” Solomon said. “Sometimes we’ll spend three days of practice to create a short, three-minute video. It takes more work than you could imagine.”

Solomon became interested in Recess during her Colonial Inauguration.

“When I saw Recess, it blew me away,” Solomon said. “It was the funniest thing I had ever seen.”

Solomon acted and performed improv in high school and thought that her funny and crazy disposition would make her a good candidate for the group.

She said her favorite show of all time was the final show the group put on last spring. Each senior did his own sketch for a a special tribute to members leaving GW to head out into the real world.

“I liked to see what they came up with on their own,” Solomon said.

Solomon said she is excited that Recess has gained recognition on campus but was disappointed to not perform at Colonial Inauguration this year.

Instead of Recess’ annual performance, incoming freshmen watched a show by D.C.’s political comedy group Capital Steps. University officials said the group was popular with parents in the past and wanted to try it out on students, Solomon said.

Recess has gotten a lot of support and drew a large showing at Welcome Week this year.

Sophomore Jason Berger is one of Recess’ many fans on campus.

“They are really funny,” Berger said. “There were a lot of dirty jokes. Things were definitely not planned, and I liked how they called on people in the audience”

Other students have Recess moments they will never live down.

“Last year when I saw a show, I got pulled out of the audience on to the stage,” sophomore Roseanne Wincek said. ” After that I was known around campus as, `the Recess girl.'”

Freshman Kristin Baldwin said it takes a certain kind of person to do improv in front of hundreds of your peers.

“It takes a lot of guts,” Baldwin said. “I would never be able to get up there and perform.”

Recess has a fresh new look this year, with the addition of four new members. David Angelo, Ken Barnard, Drew Koshgarian and Michael Tokaruk beat out 40 other hopefuls who auditioned this semester.

Tryouts included acting out a variety of roles and demonstrate on-the-spot improvisation skills, Solomon said.

Sophomore Ken Barnard said he learned about Recess at CI and immediately wanted to join

“I’ve done acting in high school, but I consider comedy my forte, so Recess is a great outlet for me,” Barnard said. “I was very surprised to be selected,”

As for his expectations for the year ahead, Barnard said he is very excited.

“I am stoked for our first show as well as for the newbie sketch. It should be a blast,” Barnard said.

The newbie sketch is written only by new Recess members and is performed as a surprise to older members.

Recess will perform next Oct. 19 at midnight at Dorothy Marvin Betts Theater .

-Elizabeth Brown contributed to this report.

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