Arts

The skill-oriented group gives students environment to improve on, and off, the stage. Photo: CC, Tamaki Sono via Flickr.

The U of O’s English language improv club helps students let loose, develop professional skills

For a passersby, Room 4 Improv-ment likely seems like a baffling experience. On a casual day, a dozen students might shamble around as a patchwork monster—while others share a laugh as someone ends up accidentally walking through an imaginary wall.

A casual observer might assume that the troupe’s behaviour stems from a concerning case of sleep-deprivation—or maybe even a gas leak—but, behind the initial ridiculousness is a challenging and complex art-form.

Situated in the University Centre’s Agora, the improvisation club meets once a week to hone their craft, express their creativity, and blow off some steam.

“It’s a release—it’s very different from what I normally do at school … I just get to come to forget everything—here I can be some crazy, wild character,” explained Sarah Robach, a fifth-year biology student. “Everyone is really kind here, and I just love it.”

The atmosphere is open, fun, and cooperative, but the club isn’t a place to just goof off. The first hour of every meeting is devoted to exercises that work to build the mental and physical skill-sets needed for quality improvisation work.

“We work on developing our improv skills, which can help with public speaking, with thinking on your feet, (and) with teamwork—there is a lot more to it than a lot of people think,” says Grace Lawrence, the club’s vice president of summit coordination. “It’s the same group of people coming every week, and it’s a really supportive environment—like a family.”

For one exercise, the group constructs a home together, and everyone must keep track of the evolving physical presence of their building.

For another, nonverbal communication is used to support a ‘group mind’—a collective of people who can predict each other’s thoughts to the point where they can cooperate without explicit verbal directions.

Both activities target specific traits needed when working with improvisation, so there is a real drive among participants to improve their performance skills. Plus, the benefits help them both on—and off—the stage.

“It has helped my teamwork and confidence levels—I’m not afraid of crowds anymore.” said Joanna Mazur, a second-year political science student.“It is extremely inclusive, (and) I’ve never felt alienated … in this group.”

Also attached to Room 4 Imrov-ment is MI-6, the University of Ottawa’s competitive improv team. For those looking to put their skills to work, this sister club allows students to compete and perform across the city, and the province.  

Room 4 Improv-ment meets every Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the University Centre Agora. Drop-ins are welcome. More information on the club and MI-6 can be found on their website.