Just as improvisation happens organically, Committed, one of two improvisational comedy groups at Vassar, originated at random. During the summer of 2012, Hannah Jay ’15 and Harris Gordon ’15 ran into each other at the Upright Citizens Brigade—an improv group with members including the likes of Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler and John Mulaney—in New York City. There, Jay and Gordon discussed the state of comedy at Vassar and came to the conclusion that the improv scene needed some diversity and decided to create Committed as an alternative to Vassar Improv.
“When school started up during the fall semester of ’12, the two of us just pretended we were already an organization, snuck into a room, and held auditions the same day all the other comedy groups were doing so as well,” said Gordon. “We were fortunate to get some really talented people on board the Committed train and we’ve been having fun ever since.”
Currently, Committed is a just a pre-org, but the improvisational group’s status does not inhibit them from performing. “Before we were a pre-org, we couldn’t reserve a space, so we would sneak into Blodgett auditorium and have shows there,” said Riley Bradshaw ’16, who joined Committed in the fall semester. “More recently, we have been having shows in Rocky…In Rocky, everyone feels more up-close and it’s more cozy.”
Committed meets twice a week. Because all performances are improvised, the group emphasizes getting to know the other members and developing trust during their practices. “Improv is really about trust…We have to trust ourselves and our scene partners in order to create anything meaningful,” stated founding member Hannah Jay ’15 in an emailed statement. “Once that trust is secure, anything can happen and it is all okay.”
Due to the nature of improvised comedy, there is little structure or guidance in determining content. Although practices do not determine what will be preformed onstage, they are helpful in figuring out what works. “Sometimes we will be doing things [in practices] where, halfway through, we will realize that nothing makes sense,” Bradshaw said. “…A lot of this is getting used to the people we are with and learning what does or doesn’t work.” Once onstage, however, the performance is up in the air. “The thing about improv is that you never know what’s going to happen in a show,” said Committed member Jordan Burns ’16. “We never know what characters we are going to be or what subject matter we are going to tackle or do, so sometimes you just go in and have a great show and a great scene, whereas other times you finish and go, ‘What did we just do? What are we even doing?’”
Committed is first and foremost a comedy troupe, but the group does not always tackle the jocular. Due to the unrehearsed and impromptu nature of improvisation, subject matter ranges from the bizarre to the raw and emotional. “We’ve had shows and practices where the scene content was serious and really emotionally taxing. I remember a scene from this year (not sure if it was in practice or a show) where two characters were in the waiting room of a hospital talking about the emotional toll of watching their loved ones suffer and how it affected them,” said Gordon.
“On the flip side, we’ve done some really absurd scenes, such as talking dinosaurs going through the Civil Rights Movement, and getting pregnant and delivering a baby through your nose. We try and embrace all aspects of improv and play with as many forms as we can get our hands on,” Gordon continued.
Currently, the group’s sets usually consist of four or five games of short form and then a game of long-form improv. Short-form games consist of just one scene with a certain set of rules attached to it. For instance, two comedians will play three different characters and constantly switch between roles. In long-form games, on the other hand, there are limitations. Instead, players are constantly tagged in and out of the scene: a longer story develops and a larger world unfolds onstage. Initially, however, Committed’s set looked a lot different than it does today: the group originally chose to perform only long-form games. As a reflection of their fluid nature, the group chooses content based on the current wants of its members. “Committed is an egalitarian group, so each member has an equal say in how the group operates. We started out as a strictly long-form group, but as our newer members showed interest in short form, we’ve began incorporating both forms into our practice,” stated Jay.
The group will rarely even have a theme to their shows. “We will know what the set list will be, so we will know what the specific games will be, but otherwise we have nothing planned. We just take suggestions from the audience and go from there,” said Burns. “We never really have a theme because improv tends to just be really random and we will never know what a scene will be about.” The group is devoted to ensuring that no two Committed performances are ever the same. “We definitely try and mix it up a lot and do lots of different games. We try not to repeat the same thing twice. And we are not afraid to get weird,” Burns said. “We get really weird sometimes. And that’s what makes us different—that we aren’t afraid to get weird.”
Committed’s next show will be on Friday, April 8 at 8 p.m. in Rocky 300, and, as expected, the performers themselves are not even sure what to expect. “The best part about improv is the feeling of letting go of control,” stated Jay. “That’s where the magic happens.”