Updated Fri, Mar 14, 2014 2:37 pm
This story is an audio feature that aired on WOUB-FM.
About 100 students are seated in Ohio University's Memorial Auditorium, making quiet chatter and giggling before the show begins. It's Thursday night in Athens, and for this crowd, that means it's improv night.
Tonight is a little different though. Instead of their regularly scheduled show at Baker University Center, tonight Black Sheep Improv, Ohio's long-form improv troupe, is teaming up with Blue Pencil Comedy, the university's stand-up comedy organization, to put on Three Black Pencils, a collaboration show between the sister organizations.
The 20 or so improvisers are split into three teams. After one of Blue Pencil's comics does a five minute set, the performers use their jokes as inspiration to create organic comedy, using only their imaginations and two chairs on stage.
The comedy scene at Ohio University is a thriving fixture of campus involvement every Saturday, Blue Pencil hosts an open mic night for its aspiring comics to try their hand on the small stage in Bobcat student lounge and every Thursday, Black Sheep Improv entertains audiences in Baker Theatre.
Taylor Reinhart, President of Blue Pencil Comedy and Hannah Ticoras, President of Black Sheep Improv, say that a lot of hard work has gone into making this possible.
"It was just the growth… you know, people just knew we would be there every week. And that was just how we grew. We got better as well because we were doing it more consistently than anybody had every done it and that's really the trick to comedy culture is consistency,” Reinhart said. “If people know you're going to be there. So like we never do any extra advertising for sibs weekend but because everyone has little sibs and they don't want to take them to bars or can't take them to bars, they can come to our show."
"So much of our stamina is dependent on what they did and the people before me did,” Ticoras said. “It's just building up this great place, this community, that people know is going be there."
Black Sheep has been lucky enough to use alumni connections to professional groups from Chicago to get performers to do shows and coach alongside students.
"But yeah, we've been able to bring in pro troupes into the theatre for either free or for 2 dollars or something, and these are troupes that you would have to pay $20 at some sort of improve theatre in Chicago,” Ticoras said. “So it's really cool for us to be able to learn from them but also for people to see the community outside of Athens and to see how cool it is that we can bring them here and that it exists here too."
Ticoras said that Ohio University is lucky to have the scene that it does. Many improv groups at universities only perform once a month or even once a semester. The fact that there are weekly shows here is a testament to the group's strength. That said, the group faces its own challenges.
"There's definitely a danger in a ready-made audience," Reinhart said. "You think like "Oh I'm a funny person and a couple hundred people will sit in this theatre and watch me be a funny person" but you forget that those people are there because they're invested in something as well. You still have responsibilities to them."
Reinhart, who's a senior, said that he doesn't want the comedy scene to stay at Ohio University, he wants it to grow and continue to find new audiences in the Athens area. But for now, he's thankful for the success he has.