Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Live Nude People: Improv Comedy Comes to UCI

By Emily Gallagher

“Rule #1: Give us your suggestions: This is audience participation so you will speak loudly and arrive on time.”

“Rule #2: No bad suggestions: If you give bad suggestions, you will be publicly flogged. Examples of bad suggestions are: Teletubbies, Pokemon, Inanimate objects, and anything to do with Bill Clinton.”

“Rule #3: Give homage to the Spoon: When the spoon is presented, you will chant like this…(static vocal high pitch sound while waving one’s fingers in the air).”

“Rule #4: Judge fairly: Even if the player is your best friend and/or lover, you will not vote for them if their games sucked booty.”

“Rule #5: You will come every Friday: Even if your mother is tied up above a pit of lions with leaping doom flames of doom and you alone can save her, you will say, ‘Sorry Mom, it’s Friday.’”

“Rule #6: At the beginning of every show, you will count down like this. ‘Live Nude People will begin in 5-4-3-2-1-LIVE NUDE PEOPLE!!!”

Live Nude People (With Clothes On) is an improvisational comedy troupe at UC Irvine designed to tickle the anteaters’ funny bone. Improvisational comedy is a form a theater where the actors perform spontaneously.

Live Nude People (LNP) is run without a teacher or an expert; members select their own student leaders and everyone learns from one another. Three captains (three teams of four, twelve students total) compete for one thing: the Giant Spoon. Every other Friday night at 11pm on UCI campus, 200-300 people gather to watch two of the three teams battle it out for the spoon by playing improvisational (improv) games. The remaining team hosts the show. The audience sits back, relaxes and “laughs without holding back,” says devoted audience member, Ethan Nguyen. He describes LNP people as “cool and awesome people. They are my personal heroes.”

Live Nude People comedy troupe is not an original idea. In 1988, a program called Whose Line is it Anyway? brought improvisational comedy to television audiences. In the mid 1990’s, several colleges around the country took a hint from the hit television show and created improv comedy groups of their own. All around the country, several colleges compete in improv comedy tournaments. In 2008, Washington D.C.’s “D.C. Improv” hosted a “Funniest College Competition” where several colleges traveled to and competed in. While LNP has not done any formal competitions, several of their alumni have gone on to perform at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, CA for a comedy troupe called “Improv Shmimprov.” Other LNP alumni have also gone on to other acting opportunities including theater productions and film.

A UCI grad actor, Eric Stein, created Live Nude People in 1997. Once Eric graduated in 2000, it was taken over by another student, Crystal Solomon, only for a mutiny to occur a year later in which three captains took control. Three captains has been the tradition ever since. The three captains are individually in charge of Advertising, Acquiring Venues, and Financing. They are also in charge of picking their four-person team with themselves included, running practices, and hosting a show every quarter. The captains remain captains until they graduate or are unable to participate, yet the rest of the team must prove their worth every quarter. Every quarter auditions are held to be a part of LNP, so the teams change every quarter to keep the group fresh and interesting.

Jose Cagigal, a current Live Nude People captain, looks back on his auditioning moments and described them as “excruciating.” Any UCI student is welcome to audition with no previous experience necessary. At the audition, they meet each other, warm up, and then play several improv games to see who is cut out to be a Live Nude Person and who is not. Auditions last several rounds of about five hours and then final decisions are made at around one or two in the morning according to Cagigal. The three teams meet up three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays for an hour and then three hours on Fridays. Improvise by definition means “to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation.” Cagigal responds, “The reason we rehearse so much is because we build relationships. We do not practice what jokes we are going to say, we just practice being with these people and we hang out all the time after rehearsals. We spend at least five hours a week together and we get to know each other very well.”

April 16, 2010 around 10pm few people are scattered outside Crystal Cove Auditorium located in the Student Center at UCI. Live Nude performers push carts filled with audio equipment and props from the elevator to the theater door. Fans try to peek inside when the door cracks open for the performers to escape into, hoping to catch a glimpse of what is going on inside. A swooshing sound is heard from the staircase, as the footsteps grow louder, “Oscar the Grouch” appears. Well, a student dressed like “Oscar the Grouch” appears at the top of the stairs.

Tonight’s theme: “Tickle Me Emo.” Audience members are encouraged to dress up with each theme. Themes for Spring Quarter 2010 have included “Tickle Me Emo,” “That 1870’s Show,” “Cereal Killers,” and “ImPROM…Houston we have an PROMlem.” Traditionally those who dress up get inside first and get the best seats in the house, needless to say, the student “Oscar the Grouch” was let in first. Around 10:30pm, a Live Nudes performer came out with slips of paper and big poster paper. Some were asked to write a line for the show on the slips of paper, which could say anything the audience member wanted. The big poster papers were passed around and the audience was invited to draw anything on it. By the time the audience was done with the lines and posters, the lobby was packed with people some dressed up, some dancing independently with help of liquid courage, all eagerly waiting to be let inside. The mouths of the audience mirrored the slow opening motion of the door as they let out a cheer and quickly stormed their way inside on a mission for the best seat. Around 200 people filled the space, which is drastically larger from the 20 people that attended when the group first started in 1997. The audience excitedly twiddled their thumbs in their seats in anticipation for the show to begin.

The audience roared with enthusiasm as three people slowly and sadly made their way to the center of the stage. They were all dressed in black with dark makeup and their hair hanging over part of their face. These three guys were the definition of emo. They started the scene pretending to be waiting in line for a My Chemical Romance concert. While waiting in line they all started reading each other some of their dark emo poetry, to the delight of the audience.

Then they each grabbed a willing audience member, some made willing by their friend’s suggestion, and they were pulled onstage and were asked to give their best emo poetry. The audience decided which volunteer made the best emo poetry by cheering the loudest for their favorite contestant. Once the short introduction skit was over, Alexa Green, a small performer with short blonde hair took over the stage to talk to the audience à la Saturday Night Live style. Then they began to host the show starting off with reciting the rules, which all the performers and regular audience members knew by heart.

The host team, Team: Model Citizen, is comprised of Brandon Norris, Alexa Green, Soren Santos and Garrett Bales.

Throughout the show, Alexa Green was the main host who introduced all of the improv games for the night and explained how each game operated. The rest of the team members sat in the front row and watched their fellow Live Nude People perform.

The competing teams for the night were introduced as Team: The Mystery Machine Rides Again featuring Will Cranmer, Darren Peters Jose Cagigal, and Erin Suth.

Team: Bayside Medical featuring Alex Foster, Rob Salas, Katie Smith and Craig Fox.

These teams mesh well together -- in every game they are quick to respond to each other and support each other as if they are all thinking on the same wavelength. They are able to be on the same wavelength due to their constant practice of playing improv games and hanging out to see how they all think and work together.

Caution: Live Nude People are not perfect; they are not always on their game. During the show, they were playing a game where Craig Fox from team Bayside medical was sent outside and the audience had to come up with a phrase that Fox would eventually have to guess; the audience chose, “Putrid cactus that perspirates.” Fox was allowed back in and his teammates had to mime out the phrase without speaking to Fox while he desperately attempted to figure out what his teammates were miming. Fox and his teammates were both expressing sighs and moans of frustration that Fox did not understand what they were miming. The situation seemed hopeless. Then the other team stood up and cheered on Fox, then the host team stood and cheered on Fox. Fox’s fellow Live Nudes family was not going to let him hang there by himself. With their encouragement, Fox took a deep breath and said, “Putrid cactus that perspirates.” The audience replied with standing ovation and cheering. According to Jose Cagigal, they all have their bad nights, nights when everyone else is “connecting perfectly” while someone else cannot think of a good response. They all learn from those nights, Cagigal says, “My first show I was not funny at all. The second show I started to get the hang of it.” He recalls the night after his first show when a fan came up to his teammate and said, “OMG you are so funny!” and then turned to Cagigal and said, “Oh…you were good.” Jose mentions, “the best parts of improv come from those moments when one cannot think of anything to say, because then their brain takes over for them and does all the magic without even thinking.” Yes, Live Nude People are not perfect, but they learn from their bad nights and their teammates help pick themselves up and continue on with the night. The regulars in the audience understand because they have seen them good and bad, and it makes the performers human and relatable. There is a special bond between the performers and the audience, they all help each other out, and the night goes on.

Throughout the night, the two teams battle it out in improv games and each game has as aspect or rule to it that comes from the audiences’ suggestions. The Words of Wisdom game involves two members from each team who all have a handful of slips of paper, which happen to be the same ones that the audience members wrote before the show began and they begin a scene. When a performer decides that the moment calls for a word of wisdom, they take out a slip of paper from their pocket that they have never read before and read it as their line. The audience radiates the walls with laughter as they recognize their friends’ words being said onstage. For a moment, the audience members’ own words are the source of laughter, even from the performers. Ann Sbardellati, a regular audience member, stood up and cheered when her line was read.

After the show, Ann commented, “It is so cool when the audience is laughing so hard at something you wrote! I mean, I wrote that, and everyone laughed!” Then story time commences as two performers, one from each team, sit in chairs and hold the stack of poster boards that the audience drew before the show. The audience comes up with a story title, tonight’s being “The Night I Wet My Bed,” and the performers tell the story using the pictures as guidelines for the story. All of this involves quick, witty thinking and all the performers have to rely on is the drawings from the audience.

By the time midnight passes, the host team starts wrapping up the show, and the Giant Spoon is unveiled. An audience member is picked to hold the spoon; tonight’s member was none other than “Oscar the Grouch.” Oscar held the spoon upright while the two teams stood on either side, as the audience was asked to cheer for either team, Oscar tilted the spoon in the direction of the team. Whichever team had the loudest cheer, the spoon went completely to that side and the team won the night.

Cagigal says “there is no significance of the spoon, which gives it all the more significance. It has always been there and is a tradition.” The LNP performers do not really care who wins, because they are all excited for each other on their good night and funny moments. They may be on separate teams, but with their huge twelve-person group hug at the end, it is evident that they are, as Katie Smith says, “One big family.” Smith says that LNP is like any other family, “we fight, laugh, support, trust and love each other. We are all really close.”

Almost all of the Live Nude People are Drama majors and have been in a few shows outside of Live Nudes at UCI. During finals week, LNP put on a special show called “Quarter in Review,” where they write a script and make fun of all of the theater shows at UCI this quarter.

It is a quarterly tradition and most of the actors that were in those shows show up to see how they are being made fun of. Jose Cagigal mentioned that before the show the LNP were all “really nervous because they some of their jokes are really mean.” Cagigal goes on to explain that there is only a “grain of truth” in their parodies of the plays and that they even “talk shit about their own performers that were in shows.” During the show, Katie Smith was covered in a large blanket and started walking towards the audience. Yet she walked a little too far and fell off the stage, the audience was dead silent. Her Live Nude family rushed out to see if she was O.K., but she quickly picked herself off and smiled to the audience and then the audience stood and cheered for her. Katie Smith is a graduating captain and has done improv since high school and joined LNP her freshman year. Jose mentioned that there are a few seniors leaving this year and he is sad to see his “best friends and heroes” leave. Alexa Green and Jose both concurred that “it hasn’t hit them yet that they just had their last show as a family together.”

Jose Cagigal describes the feeling of being onstage performing improv comedy as “Unlike anything. Awesome. The best. It’s you out there. Everything you do has been created by you, it is your words, your actions, your persona and that feels really cool. And if people like you, that’s awesome!” Since its birth, Live Nude People has promised the bored and culturally deprived students of UCI a reprieve from their bland surroundings.

Live Nude People kept their promise.

Reporting Notes:

-1 hour interview with Jose Cagigal, Live Nude People captain

-1 interview with Alexa Green

-1 interview with Katie Smith

-1 interview with Ann Sbardellati

-1 interview with Ethan Nguyen

-2 Friday night shows
-1 Tuesday night show (the Quarter in Review show)

- Twentieth Century Acting Training. ed. Alison Hodge. New York: Routledge, 2001.

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who%27s_line_is_it_anyway

- http://www.thedctraveler.com/2008/04/since-when-is-college-funny/

- http://www.improvshmimprov.com/

- http://www.livenudepeople.com/

- http://www.newuniversity.org/2007/03/features/introducing_ucis_improv_organizations29/

- http://www.newuniversity.org/2007/10/entertainment/uci_strips_for_students45/

- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmAAI5xwPVw

- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXoU1y5os1E