UIUC’s newest student run improv group to perform on campus Saturday

By Elizabeth Dye

Four years ago, sweaty masses of eager yet heat-stricken students passed between the Illini Union and the Undergraduate Library on a quest to join some of the school’s numerous and diverse organizations.

That blistering Sunday afternoon was the University’s 39th Quad Day, and coincidentally, also one of Julie Brady’s first days as a student on campus. 

Like many fresh-out-of-high-school college freshman, Brady wanted to try something she had never attempted before college. While navigating her way through the information booths and students who were crowding the Quad, she stumbled across an enormous poster with the words “Improv Comedy” plastered across the front. Having never attempted improv comedy or theater prior to college, Brady was nervous to perform in front of an audience. But, remembering her wish to try something new, she took it as a sign to try out. 

“It’s college,” Brady said she remembered thinking. “I can do whatever I want.”

At first, Brady said she was nervous to perform in front of an audience, but she soon found that the laughter her performances received was more than powerful enough to quell any ounce of stage fright she had experienced.

Brady, now a senior in AHS, has stuck with comedy to this day. 

“Improv is such a good skill builder in a lot of different areas,” she said. “I have no problem with public speaking now because I’m on stage in front of over a hundred people.” 

And after much contemplation this previous summer, Brady and members of other existing comedy troupes on campus officially launched their RSO comedy group, The Phoenix Improv Company, last August. 

Brady and Anna Gooler, co-coach of Phoenix and senior in LAS, said they felt the need for a student-run comedy group. And because their group is student-run, they believe it extends their creativity, gives them the ability to experiment with different comedic formats and allows them to make more of their own decisions.

The group comprises 12 members, excluding those selected at their most recent audition, which took place Tuesday. A second round of auditions will be taking place at Gregory Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. 

The group will be performing their first on-campus performance at the Illini Union’s Courtyard Cafe on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Both Brady and Gooler said they hope the uniqueness of their comedic style will draw the public to their first performance on campus. Brady explained that the group tries to perform different “forms” that audience members can’t just turn on “Whose Line is it Anyway” on the home TV to see.

Gooler added that the huge amount of involvement they give to younger members also sets their group apart from other comedic clubs on campus.

“We want to help coach members and get them to where they are not only learning, but really enjoying (themselves) too,” she said.

Because the group performs improv, Brady and Gooler are not able to reveal details on their upcoming performance. For those who are not familiar with improv comedy, all of the scenes, actions and dialogue are made up on the spot. None of what the audience sees at the group’s Feb. 8 performance will be rehearsed, and neither their group nor the audience will be sure of what to expect.

However, Brady and Gooler did reveal that they would be performing an original form created by one of their members, as well as several forms that include audience interaction. One form, Gooler said, involves bringing an audience member on stage and asking him questions about his life, such as what he likes to do or how his day is going. Then, an entire skit is based solely on that person’s life. 

“I think it’s fun for them to see their life on stage, and for their friends to see our interpretation of this stranger,” Gooler said.

As excited as Brady and Gooler are for their upcoming show, many students are also sharing the same sentiment.

Alec Fountas, freshman in Engineering, is one of those students.

“I’ve always watched shows like ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway,’ and have always wanted to be in the audience,” Fountas said. “It would be cool to be right next to the stage, witnessing these hilarious scenes happening in live time, right in front of me.”

Admission is $2 for students with iCards and $3 for the general public.

Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected]