The College Improv Tournament ended this Saturday in Chicago. Made up of 96 teams from all over the nation it is the largest improv event in the US. Our region’s winners, Zoiks!, from Emporia University, pumped intense energy into their set and, because of the live webcast, right into my room. They came out of the gate hard and fast; hitting the stage in a flurry of scenes and jokes. At times the frantic pace was dizzying. Overall though, it was a relentless assault on reality and straight faces.
This isn’t to say that they didn’t show an ability to shift gears. You could feel them settle in as they lengthened the scenes and did something they do well, finding the game – or, the hook of the scene. When Zoiks! finds the game in their scenes, they react like piranhas, devouring scene work as a unit. When they enter this frenzied state they always deliver the laughs. Their sense of play and trust is strong, and charms an audience, just as it did on Saturday. Zoiks! can shift and turn from one game to the next and keep the audience laughing. This wasn’t a hometown crowd and despite that, they connected. Zoiks! brought the heat, they did it in their own unique way and should be proud. Unfortunately, despite strong play, the day wasn’t theirs.
The message I got from the judges as the tournament progressed: slow it down. The group that emerged from Zoiks! bracket, played it slow. In my opinion, it was to a fault at times. Moments were so plodding and cerebral; they lacked variance in character or energy. Some scenes became simply an exercise in making lists. However, patience was the common denominator of the finalists and theirs was a “patient” set.
Restraint onstage can add complexity and richness. It allows everyone involved in the set, this includes the audience, to discover and appreciate what the group cultivates and how it is used as fuel for the scene. This has become a focus for us in the T5s; to slow down and notice the details. The transition hasn’t been easy. I wonder if at times we have entered the plodding, cerebral trap of the aforementioned group.
Zoiks! reminded me of a set we played in ’98 or ’99. We shared age and energy with Zoiks! back then. We attacked the stage the same way and it felt right. The comments from the out of town improvisors were all on how much energy we had. Perhaps that is the style we have in the KC area; maybe we play spastic. Watching Zoiks! do their thing was a reminder not to lose that animal instinct. Their energy and excitement was infectious.
So to the cast of Zoiks! here is a big salute from the Trip Fives. You represented the area, made us proud and showed the national scene how to play it to the hilt. Congratulations!