Taxidermy, 2%, and a toilet: Fossil’s first Improv Showdown

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Taxidermy, 2%, and a toilet: Fossil’s first Improv Showdown

Aiden Lee is called from the audience to be interrogated by team Red. He answers questions about popsicles and makeup, scoring the audience member 10 points.

Aiden Lee is called from the audience to be interrogated by team Red. He answers questions about popsicles and makeup, scoring the audience member 10 points.

Caroline Sears

Aiden Lee is called from the audience to be interrogated by team Red. He answers questions about popsicles and makeup, scoring the audience member 10 points.

Caroline Sears

Caroline Sears

Aiden Lee is called from the audience to be interrogated by team Red. He answers questions about popsicles and makeup, scoring the audience member 10 points.

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On Monday, February 4 at 7 p.m., Fossil Ridge High School’s Black Box was dancing with orange and pink strobe lights, the speakers pumping in “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled. Students, parents, and friends of Fossil’s thespians packed the space, waiting in expectation for the ten seats facing them to be filled. Suddenly, an announcer’s voice filled the space, exclaiming, “Ladies and gentlemen… welcome to your first ComedySportz Improv Showdown!”

The event proceeded with unequal parts hilarity, comedic ridiculousness, and social commentary. A fundraiser for the FRHS Theater Booster Club, two teams of five thespians each competed in a variety of improvisation games, all hosted by Denver-based improv group ComedySportz. Dane Jones served as referee for the competition, awarding points based on performance and taking them away for “being lame.”

The red team consisted of captain Megan Bean, Eva Miller, Amelia Overholt, Lucas Feuer, and Natalie Anderson. Eli Taylor captained the blue team, also boasting Harrison Dachel, Ben Ashby, Tom Houser, and Caitlin Purcell. Bean and Taylor casted the ten people who participated, then split them onto teams in hopes of having a mixture of sexes and age levels represented.

To begin the competition, Jones called the captains to the stage, where Bean’s guess came closer to the number in his head. The red team elected to play What you got? as the first head-to-head game. Then, the teams were off. The competition proceeded as follows:

Round One – Head-to-Head

What you got?

Red: 0; Blue: 0

Both teams of five turn to face one another. The red team begins clapping in sync, and the audience throws out suggestions of actions, settings, and hobbies. Then, Bean seizes on “yard work,” and sing-songs, “Mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn, mowing the lawn, what you got?” After the first repetition, her team jumps in, copying her actions and tone. At “what you got?”, Blue jumps in with their own action, and the volley continues.

Caroline Sears
Overholt explained that, while the teams practiced the games to make sure they understood the structure of them prior to the event, every action they took on stage was truly improvised. She encouraged anyone thinking about trying improv to “just go for it,” explaining, “I didn’t know anyone when I started, but it’s the best community to be in to break the ice and make friends really quick.”

The setting shifts to a grocery store (“stealing all the fruit!”) and then to a ski resort (“everything’s so expensive!”). Overholt’s “I look like a giraffe!” interpretation of the zoo brings massive laughs from the audience, who no doubt enjoy the improvisers ability to laugh at themselves, and also concludes the game. Jones awards five points to the blue team and three to red, and with the slight win, Blue has the chance to pick the next game red will compete in.

Round Two – Red

Story Orchestra

Red: 3; Blue: 5

Per Blue’s decision, the red team retakes the stage alone. They stand in a semi-circle, and when asked for “the name of a book that’s never been written,” the audience provides, “The Life of a Pencil.” Jones then points at Bean, who begins telling the story the book would tell. Each time he points at someone new, they have to pick up the story from where their teammate left off.

The audience learns of the comfort of the pencil factory, the excitement of going to school for the first time, the crushing realization that it is not all it was cracked up to be. They listen as the pencil is dropped, stepped on, even bitten—and, subsequently, of his rise back to glory, as he pens “the best essay the first grade had ever seen.” Feuer picks up with, “I learned everything about Martin Luther King Jr. there was to know,” and Overholt once again finishes the round with a rousing, “Happy Black History Month everyone!”

Round Two – Blue

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Red: 3; Blue: 5

Upon the red team’s choice of the game for the blue team, three thespians take the stage. The audience throws out suggestions for things they need advice on, beginning with dating and then moving to swimming. For each topic, each one of the three members on stage provides a piece of advice for mastering the skill—based on their specialty of good, bad, or ugly advice.

One can simply buy some epoxy. Then, visit a local national park, find a bobcat, sneak up on it, and douse it with the liquid. In just four to five minutes, one will have a perfectly frozen cat.”

A high schooler in the audience shouts out “taxidermy!” and one of the great jokes of the night is born. Taylor suggests lovingly stuffing your beloved pet in order to keep them with you, miming kissing them on the head after stitching them up. She is followed by Ashby, who questions why it would possibly be worth spending money to learn from a professional taxidermist. He points out that there is always roadkill to be found outside, and so long as there “aren’t any green flies (the black ones are okay),” it is much easier to simply practice on them. Finally, Houser points out that in the interest of going big or going home, one might as well simply buy some epoxy from a chemical supply facility. Then, during a visit to a local national park, find a bobcat, sneak up on it, and douse it with the liquid. In just four to five minutes, one will have a perfectly frozen cat.

With the conclusion of the game, points are awarded, and Blue extends their lead.

Round Three – Red

Four Corners

Red: 13; Blue: 20

Red once again takes the stage for the next round, this time forming a square. The two closest to the audience request a relationship of those in front of them, who provide “siblings.” The team rotates, and in succession, it is determined that the other three sides will display, respectively, “a cop car,” “toothbrushing,” and “shoemaking.”

Bean and Feuer begin acting out a familial scene, in which Bean laments her inability to find a Mother’s Day gift and Feuer laughs at her stress. When the lights flash, the team rotates, and Bean and Overholt jump into a comedy routine about drug dealing and bad arrest stories. Each side of the story is a continuation of itself, and the improvisers excel at picking right back up from where they had left off each time they return to the front of the stage.

Round Three – Blue

Late to Work

Red: 13; Blue: 20

The blue team elects Dachel their boss and Purcell their flustered employee. Purcell is sent to the hall, and the audience comes up with the fact that she was late for work because “she dropped her makeup brushes in the toilet” and finally got there “riding a horse.” When she reenters, Taylor and Ashby stand behind their boss, pantomiming her excuse, while she attempts to decipher it for Dachel.

While Purcell gives it her best effort, the dropped makeup brushes prove a complicated situation to communicate without words, and Purcell’s teammates resort to dropping hints in conversation with their boss. When the game comes to a close, Red has closed the gap, bringing the game to a tie.

Round Four – Head-to-Head

World’s Worst

Red: 25; Blue: 25

Both teams jump to their feet to explain why they are the “world’s worst” at their job. As the audience exclaims “teacher!” and “exterminator!”, the teammates respond with, “I told my students that the most important thing is that their peers like them” and “To kill the bug, you must be the bug,” complete with leeching bug movements.

Young Nate, in the audience, makes the mistake of suggesting “referee!” as the next worst job. Jones takes away one of the boy’s points and awards some to each of the teams, giving red a slight edge over blue.

Round Five – Head-to-Head

Spelling Bee

Red: 39; Blue: 37; Nate: -1

The next game brings two members of each team back to the stage, where they crowd into a chair per pair for their spelling bee. Each provides a single letter at a time, switching back and forth with their partner, and occasionally requesting a definition of Feuer. He serves as moderator, asking the audience for multisyllabic words and then judging the performance of the teams. While “rashluushludu” is correct, “kattuerjoounz” is not, and “skiwieiwawoop” earns half points.

Caroline Sears
Ashby, a sophomore, revealed that he first tried improv in a last-period class in middle school, but was not very good. His freshman year at Fossil, he began doing Improv in earnest, and realized how fun it was. While he was certainly a confident person when he started, he found that it “helped him build a lot of confidence, like performing on stage.”

Round Six – Red

Hot Seat

Red: 39; Blue: 37; Nate: -1

The red team enters their final game confidently, bringing in an audience member to help form their story. Viewers recognize Aiden Lee from his roles in Big Fish and Rent, but he is someone else entirely when the team begins quizzing him. Red is to give a group performance based only on the answers Lee gives to their questions, so they stick to the important things—his favorite popsicle flavors and what he does when he is sad.

Aiden’s performance on stage earns him Nate’s point from earlier, and nine more, putting him on the board for the first time.

Round Six – Blue

Antifreeze

Red: 39; Blue: 37; Aiden: 10

Two blue improvisers take the stage to begin their team’s penultimate game, in which they can act any scene. However, when the lights flash, another Blue member has to tap one of them out and the resulting pair goes back in time from the previous story, explaining how it came to be.

Taylor initially finds herself camping with her boyfriend, trying to start a fire with only her hands. The audience then witnesses her younger self camping with her father, Ashby, who is trying to turn her “manly.” Ashby’s wife expresses her concerns for her husband’s attempts to shift their daughter, and the wife makes one ill-fated trip to the grocery store, in which raw meat in consumed. To finish the game, Purcell tells Dachel, “Did you just say too manly? There’s no such thing.” He looks straight to the audience and recalls, “Toxic masculinity?”

The red team maintains their lead after those final individual rounds.

Round Seven – Head-to-Head

Questions Only

Red: 49; Blue: 46; Aiden: 10

The final round commences with a single line of thespians, members of each team facing one another. With the ring of the bell, the first Red and Blue competitor launch into a routine in which they can respond to one another only in questions. If they cannot, or forgot to, they are sent to the end of the line and the next thespian jumps into the fray.

The routines embodies the spirit of the night, drawing laughs, groans, and smiles from everyone. Red asks Blue, “Does this floor look dirty to you?”, and Blue counters with, “Do you want me to come down there and check?”. Blue questions, “Where the heck did you put my cat?”, and Red responds, “Do I look like the kind of person who would put a cat in a closet?”

The lights go down one last time, and Jones steps forward to declare a winner. Red adds nine points to their score, while Blue, at the last moment, pulls off 14, making the blue team the champions of the first ComedySportz Improv competition. In one final nod to the craft, to the crescendoing notes of “We are the Champions,” the red team falls to the floor in dismay and the blue team jumps in elation.

It’s scary at first. It really is. But you have to genuinely just put yourself out there and throw yourself into it without being scared. In this environment, no one is judgemental in the slightest.”

— Eli Taylor

Ashby’s favorite part of being on stage is that things he has “just made up on the fly are making people laugh.” Taylor built on that idea, explaining that she loves “being onstage and getting to act without a script, and just being free for a second.” She also advised that, “it’s scary at first. It really is. But you have to genuinely just put yourself out there and throw yourself into it without being scared. In this environment, no one is judgemental in the slightest. I would recommend it.”

Deana Kochis, one of several theater teachers at Fossil, gave insight into the choice of the ComedySportz event this year. She provided, “We have a really big improv troupe. Some of the schools in Denver have really big improv teams, and whenever we go to the Colorado Thespian Convention they compete against other improv teams. Fossil’s improv team is definitely one of the better teams in Colorado. We decided, “why not?”—it’s time to have them perform here.” Kochis also added that she hopes this event will occur annually, so that Fossil’s team can get a bigger name for themselves as a facet of school culture.

Fossil Theater’s next big event will be the school play, One Man, Two Guvnors, which will be performed April 11, 12, and 13 in the Performing Arts Center. Auditions for actors are this week.