Eight energetic people bound before the audience, introduce themselves, and launch into a skit based on free association with the theme of cheese puffs.
This is Primitive Streak, Oberlin's student improv comedy group. Founded eight years ago as a winter-term project, it is now an established campus organization with competitive auditions and several performances a year.
These performances are a mixture of comedy, music, and theater. Each show is composed of scene work, gimmick games, and musical games, all improvised on the spot. The troupe uses audience participation to provide a basic framework for each skit or game. "It's all about being spontaneously creative," said senior David Tarlow.
Members range in age from freshmen to seniors. Directors are chosen every semester from within the group. There is no set composition of the cast; each semester is different depending on who auditions.
And auditions are tough! While the group specializes in making people laugh, auditions are no laughing matter--they are highly competitive. Last semester 20 people auditioned for three positions. Auditions are held every semester to replace those who have graduated or decided not to return.
The troupe keeps a rigorous rehearsal schedule, rehearsing three days a week, for two hours each day. Because cast members spend so much time together, strong friendships are built among them. The first two weeks of rehearsal are devoted to trust games. At the beginning of every rehearsal, cast members "check in" with one another--each member tells the group about any news they have or problems they may be experiencing. "It's a constant commentary on how things are going," explained sophomore Jeremy Ellison-Gladstone, one of the group's directors.
Rehearsals are used to work on specific skills and techniques. Members focus on establishing environment and relationship between characters, and they also develop group focus, cast interaction, improvisational skills, and build "crystal-clear teamwork and trust," Ellison-Gladstone said.
The group runs through a few of many games during rehearsal. Everyone participates, and at the close of each rehearsal everyone helps critique the performance. The job of the directors is to help focus the tremendous energy of the group. "Good job" and "That was funny" are heard many times during the rehearsal, evidence of the strong camaraderie among the cast members.
The repertoire of Primitive Streak has developed over the past eight years. Most material is taken from a huge list of games, but each member might bring something new, and the group also develops new games on its own. The games range from a spoof of MTV's "Real World" (with housemates Moe the Hell's Angel and Skippy the kleptomaniac) to performance art using articles donated by the audience.
Primitive Streak has two major performances each semester. The troupe also does smaller appearances throughout the year at study breaks or other events. This year the group opened for folk singer Peter Yarrow during his performance at Parent's Weekend in October.
Primitive Streak fills a definite niche at Oberlin. On a campus known for its political activism and academic intensity, Primitive Streak provides a touch of levity.
"It's nice to give reassurance to people that it's really okay to laugh every once in a while," said Ellison-Gladstone.
--Joseph F. Bradley '99
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