Oh, the anxieties of freshman year. From the sometimes-disastrous roommate match-ups to the arbitrary dorm placement (anyone ever heard of Fletcher?) or the anonymity of being a measly one of 500 in of your first lecture, the trials that freshmen in college have to stumble through these days (and not always drunkenly, either) could stress out even the most level-headed of teens.

To a clueless and sheltered 18-year-old, the transition from an insular high school environment to the enigmatic utopia that is the University might come as a shock. It isn’t always a breeze learning to live sans parents in a bustling campus of over 25,000 of your peers where (at least during the first couple of weeks) your best friend is a tie between MoJo’s Panini maker and C-Tools.

But fear not young’uns, for the University of Michigan Educational Theatre Company has been here for the past six years to help freshmen avoid these typical bumps in the road. UMETC aims to tackle a wide range of qualms that permeate the minds of young underclassmen.

Remember being bussed to North Campus during freshman orientation? It wasn’t just to marvel at the beautiful foliage, but to watch the UMETC perform a series of comedic, SNL-like sketches that — in a hilarious and educational way — address the situations that freshmen are going to be exposed to upon their arrival at the University. Through these skits, students learn not only the practical ways to navigate UHS, the libraries and the dorms, but also about the personal strains of college, like maintaining relationships with your friends from high school, meeting new people and being homesick.

It’s certainly no easy feat to command the attention of an entire freshman class while trying to educate them — and no less, making them laugh while learning logistical mumbo-jumbo about the bureaucracy of a large institution like the University.

“We want it to be a fun and creative way to present some of the content that might have otherwise been in a folder or a lecture format or in a PowerPoint,” said UMETC Education Director Callie McKee. “The goal is to get students acquainted with the resources on campus, without putting them to sleep.”

UMETC isn’t just an extracurricular for students in the theatre department like Basement Arts or MUSKET. UMETC does introduce the frosh newbies to programs in the arts at Michigan, but most of its members are drawn from LS&A, the School of Engineering and the Residential College. It’s an opportunity for students who may not study theater but are still passionate about it, and for those who are especially passionate about the University.

“We look for people who are really geeked about going to Michigan, and are also fantastic performers,” McKee said. “It’s a group of people that are ridiculously talented and also want to give back to the University.”

“Giving back to the University” reaches far beyond just freshman orientation. Beside performing for the international and transfer students’ orientation, UMETC also performs throughout the year in engineering classrooms, using its sketch comedy to give students an idea of how to successfully work in diverse teams with their peers. Easing students’ minds is part of what makes endless rehearsals and year-round performances worth it for the members of UMETC.

“We get really good feedback, students saying stuff like, ‘I didn’t know, I feel so much more welcome, now I can be OK,’ ” McKee said.

What’s more is that UMETC isn’t just a group of volunteers. Not only did it perform over 34 times this summer alone, but it also is technically a professional theater group — meaning it’s a paid job.

“A lot of people think that we just throw it together … but this is my full-time job. I have the best job on campus,” said McKee.

Though some of the lines in the skits change from night to night, McKee helps the students write a generally permanent script. Many of the sketches are developed through improvised games played during rehearsal. These practices, when the actors let loose, are part of the reason McKee feels so strongly about her job because at the heart of it all, the skits don’t merely help clueless freshmen get the lay of the land. The entire process serves as an outlet for the members to truly let loose and be silly.

“When else do we get permission to just be ridiculous? It’s like a mental health break,” McKee said. “We use all of that ridiculousness to put something together that’s helping people.

“We’re always trying to get back to our eight-year-old roots, and be those awesome people who played and just got ridiculous.”

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