As the members of the Midnight Book Club arrived at Mason Hall for one of their biweekly rehearsals, they were talking to one another about their weekends and the day’s snowy weather. As one member went to find an open room for rehearsal, five others sat down around a table to talk to me.

The Midnight Book Club is a long-form improv group on campus that started three years ago by “a group of friends who just cared about improv and each other,” according to Business junior Lauren Barrett. Its style of improv is different from what you’d see on “Whose Line Is It Anyway” in that they use suggestions and ideas to build 30- to 40-minute sketches, much longer than their short-form counterparts.

Barrett went on to describe what attending their one-hour, free shows is like. “You’d sit in a room. And then you’d hear ‘Uptown Funk.’ And then we’d run in and dance. And then we’d turn off ‘Uptown Funk’ and introduce ourselves. Then we’ll take a suggestion from the audience that could literally be any word. And then we’ll kind of do an opening … It can be anything we want it to be.”

When doing a show, they always take the first word they hear from the audience. It leads to completely different results each time. “There’s no scale of goodness on suggestion ’cause it’s, if someone is like ‘McDonalds,’ it doesn’t necessarily need to be set in McDonalds, it’s whatever you take from the word,” said LSA sophomore Anna Garcia. “So, if it’s like ‘playpen,’ ‘coke,’ whatever.” She recalled one scene they did where the first suggestion was “balls.” Barrett added that the suggestions are “more of a jumping-off point than a sticking-to point.”

Music, Theatre and Dance junior Graham Techler compared improv to playing basketball. Barrett advanced the parallel by saying, “You never know what basket you’re gonna shoot. Also, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

They also strongly consider their relationship with the audience.

“The relationship between audience and improviser is different in that it’s not like traditional theater with them expecting this performance,” Barrett said. “They’re part of the creation process. They’re watching us create this show on our feet. It’s more inclusive. They’re let in on an inside joke.”

One of the highlights of their semester so far has been attending the Chicago Open Regional tournament for the second time. They competed against teams from all over the Midwest, including teams from Bowling Green State and Grace College.

LSA sophomore Joe Ambrose was very impressed by the caliber of schools that were on the trip. “There was such a range of schools,” he said. “Some kids, like us, this is a student org for us, it’s an extracurricular … For some, like at the Columbia College of Art in Chicago, their major was comedy and writing. They had a group of 75 people.”

Garcia continued the subject, adding, “They took classes such as Improv 101 and they get credit for that … They all have coaches. They have someone to ground everyone and continuously check in.”

Emily Bice, an LSA and Music, Theatre and Dance freshman who attended the tournament for the first time, was interested in the highs and lows of delivering such intense performances.

“It was cool to see people who were at their peak, well not the peak, but who have really finessed and worked really hard on improv and people who were just learning. Decide where we fall on that. I thought it was an amazing experience.”

The group has a lot coming up in the semester. Garcia said they have plans to perform with Michigan State University’s ROIAL Players in East Lansing. She also mentioned that the group is planning on increasing their partnership with Basement Arts, a student-run theater group.

“They have these slots called late nights. Basically at 11 p.m. at Walgreen Drama Center,” Garcia said. “They give you an hour to do whatever you want. We’ve done a couple of those and they want to work closer in partnership, so hopefully we’ll be doing more late nights.”

Since everything for each show is made up, there are a host of humorous moments from rehearsals that never see the light of day. Ambrose shared one of his favorite scenes: “(I) had a really fun one with Anna where we were at the zoo. We were a couple dating. It became so real to me that for a second I thought there was some potential. That was fun. I was like, not single for a second.”

Techler added that he liked one “when Lauren (Barrett) was the mother whose son had fallen into the gorilla pit so she had mad PTSD.” Barrett continued, “I was basically playing Rafiki from ‘Lion King.’ I was just shaking.”

Garcia recalled a scene from the tournament where Barrett was a math teacher about to be laid off and lame-duck President Riley Taggart was the principal laying her off. Barrett discussed the scene by saying, “I wanted to be this variable in a linear equation that was greater than zero so I was worth something, or even a constant, but he thought I was a variable that was equal to or less than zero and that I needed to go.”

“They were dropping formulaic equations … the audience was like ‘ah, what?,’ ” Garcia added.

Each member at the table clearly enjoys performing in this manner, but each enjoys different aspects of improvisation. Techler started by saying, “What I like about improv is trying to find, trying to discover what’s going on in a group of people without getting to debrief on it. Every improv scene feels like you’ve been caught by police with friend and you have to make up a story. You have to seem like you’re on the same page even when you’re not necessarily.”

Garcia spoke to the aspect of improv called “group mind:” “When we have that on stage, in rehearsal, it’s the most incredible feeling, to have your partner understand you, know where you want to be going (and) support you in getting there.”

Bice continued, “I feel like college, so much of it is so formulaic … The cool thing about improv is for two hours twice a week you go and there’s nothing you have to formulate … You get to go big and wild and forget about everything you have to think about and achieve.”

The Midnight Book Club’s next show is Feb. 13 at 8 p.m. at the Michigan League Hussey Room. Tickets are free.

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