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A Happy Insanity, or, What I Did Last Weekend (Mostly Improv-Related)

April 23, 2011

Tess Yanisch ’13

Greetings, dear readers, after yet another prolonged absence! Somehow, I seem to be getting busier and busier. My thoughts are rather scattered at the moment. I may later engage in some form of musing about exactly how and why I keep getting swept up in all kinds of work, but such musings in real life tend to provoke outcries from Guy and Emma to "DO FEWER THINGS!", so perhaps I'll abstain. For the moment, I'll take a break from my frantically-busy current weekend and tell you a few things about my less-frantic-but-still-very-full last weekend.

Last weekend was a confluence of many, many programs and events. It was, of course, also an All Roads weekend, so hopefully some of you were here, prospie-ing to your hearts' content. If so, or if you've read Griff's blog, you know about the Interfaith Day of Service and the Dandelion Romp. I hoped to go to those, too, but as it turned out I found myself unable to do so. However, I'm still amazed at how much I managed to get up to.

First, Friday. Friday was an excellent day except for a brief bout of extreme frustration at the statistics software we're using in my Research Methods in Psychology class. I couldn't figure out how to do things. Normally, I don't have so much trouble with it, which compounded the issue. In the end, I called it quits for the day, because mounting irritation doesn't help my productivity. Instead, I went to TGIF in Wilder Bowl, which was happening despite the cloudy weather.

(TGIF, for those who don't know, happens every nice-weather Friday in Wilder Bowl, the grassy space between the main library, the student union, Dascomb Residence/Dining Hall, Warner the-old-Gymnasium-that's-now-dance-and-acting-studios, and several academic buildings. There is beer for those old enough to get it, music over loudspeakers, people playing music, people playing Frisbee, people sitting in circles talking, people asleep on the grass, Circus people doing Circus things . . . It doesn't even always happen on Fridays. I remember once we had a break in the dreariness on a Thursday and people congregated in exactly the same way.)

Anyway, I went to TGIF for an irritation-detox session: I ran around barefoot, attempted juggling, and climbed a tree.

After a most entertaining dinner with friends, it was time for Movie Night. A few of us have a tradition of watching movies on Fridays. This time, though, I'd already seen the movies in question, Evangelion, parts I and II. It's a remake/movie-ization of one of the most popular and most confusing animes Japan has ever produced. The end of the second movie is about where the anime ended--but there are still two more parts due to come out. Basically, no one has any idea what's going on.

Now, as I said, I'd already seen these movies. However, this weekend was not just the Dandelion Romp, it was OCIC: the Oberlin College Improv Conference. The Sunshine Scouts run it, inviting in college troupes from around the country and three professional troupes every year. I was there to watch the professionals' night when I visited as a prospie. I was, of course, there last year. It worked out perfectly that I would not be missing much to go this year too. It was well worth it: the shows were hilarious. The troupes this time were Octavarious, pH Productions, and Rare Bird Show. Recounting an improv show doesn't work terribly well, so I won't attempt it, but I will say that they were all fantastic.

Another part of OCIC is that the professional troupes run workshops Saturday morning and afternoon. I signed up for one, run by one of the women from pH Productions, called "Women on Top." The short description said it was about women in improv. I've always been interested in the different dynamics that scenes can have depending on the gender of the provvers. For example, in a Scouts practice last year, three of the guys did a very funny scene--involving fathers and sons and loyalty and betrayal on a battlefield--which we all immediately labeled a "bro scene." Then there's the fact that women have a harder time in comedy than men--stories that are funny when men tell them sometimes fall into one or another female stereotype and aren't funny coming from a woman. I figured this would be about that, and I signed up eagerly.

One of the other workshops was being taught by one of last year's Scouts alums, Avital Isaacs, on silence in improv. I nearly took her workshop as well, but I had a lot of work to do, and I did work with Avi all last year--I figured someone who had never met her would get more out of the workshop than I would. I did get to say hello to her, though, which was great. She's living in New York, doing shows occasionally with other Scouts alumni, and she sounds like she's enjoying herself.

Then the show was over and I headed back to my friends. The second movie had just ended. Guy and Emma were leaving. John and I played gin (which, alas, I have yet to beat him in--but that day will come) and then John taught me Shoji, which is basically Japanese chess. It was really interesting. I lost abominably, of course, because I was still learning what the new pieces were and how they moved, as well as getting accustomed to a new aspect of the game: when you capture an opponent's piece, it becomes yours, and you can put it on the board wherever you want on any turn. This means that you can be very nearly done with a complicated scheme and suddenly find a very intimidating new piece blocking your way. It really adds a new level of complexity to the game.

Saturday I went to the improv workshop, led by Rasheeda Moore. The workshop was not, at first, about women in improv; we learned a new form (a layout, pattern, structure--the way the show works) that Rasheeda and some others had designed for a show in which there were just women performing. We learned the form and then ran through it several times. It felt great to be doing improv again. I realized that I'd been missing it. Two people from the Sunshine Scouts were there, which made it even more familiar--I knew how they worked, after all. I could tell some places where I was rusty, but for the most part I fell back into my same mindset, looking for openings, threads to pick up, ideas to build on. The form really helped that, actually.

Toward the end, we did discuss the situation of women in improv. It's still a very male-dominated field, and apparently some Second City producers still think that women just aren't funny. The group that designed this form did so to showcase the fact that, yes, women can be funny--very funny. We had a good discussion about that, and about what some of the differences in gender are ("audiences seem to find it funnier when a man pretends to be a woman than when a woman pretends to be a man"). Rasheeda also told us about how one of her all-female groups did "a very girly show" all about boyfriends and shopping and bonding--that was then immediately followed by an all-male group doing a really "stereotypical guy" show about things like "I'm not able to afford that motorcycle but I'm getting it anyway"! Usually, though, she said that single-gender groups tend to get that out of their systems and expand into more general topics.

Sunday's big activity was the steampunk dinner party. Apparently a group of people on campus have been meeting intermittently over the past two years and doing improv (for themselves, not for an audience) as characters in a steampunk world. In this world, it is 1911, but World War I has been kicked off a little early. (Read: one of the people at the Thanksgiving party asked if they could kill Archduke Ferdinand and Franny, the GM, said okay.)

This was my first time at one of these parties, but Franny filled me in on the background of the characters and the world fairly well. It is a long and complicated history, so I won't get into it here, but I will post photographs. The lighting in the (period-appropriate!) lounge we used was pretty awful and the photographs were taken in a hurry at the end, which means it's all very blurry and people are making weird faces, but the costumes were admirable indeed. This is by no means the full cast, just those who could make it that night.

Student in costume posing for the photo

This is me in costume as Karoline D. Winberg, attorney-at-law. She is among the first female lawyers in the United States. She was educated in the East, of course, but grew up on the West Coast and has a tough sense of justice. She recently successfully argued a case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court that women workers had (a) the right to work and (b) the right to unionize. This brought her to the attention of the world's finest businesswoman.

Student lounging on a couch

This is Franny, our GM, aka Alisa Dmitrievna Tarasova, our hostess and possibly the most powerful woman in the world (but hardly anyone knows it). An inventor herself, she runs the incredibly profitable Tarasova Industries and has a habit of "adopting" interesting people. She has an awful lot of power and wants to save the world with science, but she has a tendency to possibly go overboard at times. She recently hired an incredibly stubborn, morally grounded, and gifted lawyer to help her adhere to the Google Pledge (Tarasova Pledge?): "Don't be Evil."

Student performing on stage

This is Daniel, aka Gram the brilliant but scatterbrained inventor, one of Alisa's adoptees. He designed a very sleek new airship. Karoline, who loves flying, is kind of in awe of him--at least when he isn't peering intently at an orange and muttering, "What's this? What does this do? Hmm . . . I could build one of these." Incidentally, Daniel does the best science-babble I have ever heard, including anything on Star Trek, off the top of his head.

Student lounging on couch; student sitting in a chair with hand clasped

Miss Tarasova (Franny) and her publicist (Sarah). The poor publicist--whose name I can't remember--is not allowed to publicize the most interesting things that happen. At one point during the night, when international intrigue was going on, she actually put her pen out of reach.

Two students sitting in lounge chairs

This evening's wild cards, Will and Phil. I can't remember either of their characters' names. Will (on the left) was a profiteering arms dealer and Phil had a steam-powered chip in his brain, making him think he was someone else. Also, you see that pan on the ground? At the beginning of the evening, that was full of brownies. (I like making brownies. And everyone likes eating them.)

Student with vine tattoos drawn on his arm

Connor plays Jack Spade, possibly the character with the most complicated backstory. Put simply, he's an undead cyborg mercenary. Put a trifle less simply, he's been brought back from the dead multiple times, is starting to degenerate because of it, and happens to have a cybernetic arm. His expression in this photo is a little strange, but I assure you, he's capable of looking much creepier.

Student with vine tattoos with another student holding on to his shoulders from above

This was supposed to be a shot of Connor and Franny, but due to bad photography, I seem to have cut Franny's head off. I remember taking another picture . . . apparently I didn't? Anyway, here you can see not only Jack's cybernetic arm (nerves drawn on) but also the other arm, in wraps (degenerative returned-from-the-dead disease), with a knife popping out ('cause he's an awesome bodyguard like that).

Students in a discussion in the middle of the lounge chairs

Aaand a partial group shot. You can tell it's at the end because Connor has already unwrapped his arm.

Sorry again for the poor quality of the photos--Ma'ayan would do better, I know--but I show them to give you an idea of what hijinks we get up to here.

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