Review: Needs Improvment Battle

Susanna Kemp, Staff Writer

The Needs Improvment “Battle” on May 28 in the Roberts-Dubbs Auditorium pitted alumni against current members of the improv troupe in a good-natured competition that was both hilarious and bittersweet, as it marked the last performance for the seniors.

The current members of the troupe marched onto the stage to begin the show in matching T-shirts sporting the words “Umlauts making you sad?” printed above a graphic of a man’s face. Below that it read, “Come to the woods with slippery daddy.”

The actors stood on black platforms on the floor in front of the stage, and requests for scene suggestions from the audience were frequent and encouraged, which made the show feel intimate.

The performance first featured a performance by the current members (New School) and then by the alumni (Old School), culminating in final “battle,” in which old and new members went head to head.

One of the most entertaining games played was the first game performed by the New School titled “La Ronde.” Audience members picked a name for two members of the group, who started an improvised scene. Other members of the troupe then entered the scene in place of one of the members on stage, creating a new character.

The audience chose the names Lord Puffington (played by senior Lilly Hartman) and Maddy McMuffin (senior Emma Kelley), who began a scene about the closing of McMuffin’s nicotine muffin business and under-the-table muffin exchanges. Members of the troupe took on a variety of different characters ranging from a full-of-himself high school muffin seller (senior Simone St. Pierre) to angry brownies (senior Sophie Brown and junior Katie Suh). Each member chose to be a completely unique character. They differed greatly in age, personality, gender, and even humanity, as in the case of the talking brownies.

Old School featured both recent alumni and older alumni. They kicked off their performance with an improv game called “God,” in which one member could stop the performance at any time and say she wanted to see a certain scene between two characters. The Old School’s performance, chosen by the audience to be about deforestation, did not quite match the New School’s in its level of hilarity but was amusing nonetheless.

The “battle” portion of the show included games in which Old School and New School members performed together, and games in which one group performed first, followed by the other group.

In one of the most memorable games, two members performed a scene while another member could stop them at any point after a line they liked and say, “Sounds like a song cue to me.” The members would then have to create a song unrelated to the plot, backed up by two members acting as musicians. Old School’s performance featured a mother trying to make her unwilling dancer-daughter go to the doctor. One of the song references was “Show me you’re a dancer,” in which the two members created an extremely funny spoken song about dancing.

At the end of each round, student drama executives scored each group in categories for storytelling, playing by the rules, and overall entertainment. The audience reacted to the scores with boos and whoops. Drama teachers Mary Mastandrea and Summer Williams scored a fourth “X-Factor” category. They could add or take off points for anything. They deducted points for things ranging from “gross” to “inappropriate,” and they added points for things like a well-done “Silence of the Lambs” reference and simple appreciation for seeing an old member performing.

Needs Improvment teacher Mark Vanderzee tallied points and announced that the winner was New School. Both Old School and New School clapped excitedly along with the audience. In the end, though, it seemed as if the wins and losses were mostly forgotten in the spirit of the night.

The show ended with a farewell to the seniors of the troupe. On behalf of the group, Senior Rianna Cranberg presented Vanderzee with his very own matching T-shirt. Vanderzee then presented each senior with a brightly colored personalized Needs Improvment T-shirt.

Without a script, Vanderzee said something about his appreciation for each member, including some personal stories. At the end of the show, the group members stayed on stage, hugging and mingling, reluctant to leave their last performance with the troupe, which, as Vanderzee mentioned, has become a home for many.