Seton High School improv team provides two hours of laughter

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Imagine you are a student in front of a large audience. Right before the show begins you realize that you have no idea what you are going to say and neither do your classmates. Don't worry, this is not a terrible dream brought on by your public speaking final exam. This is improv night at Seton High School in Manassas, featuring the student improv troop, Semper Ridiculum.

The group is made up of 12 students who specialize in improvisational theater, a type of comic performing where all the skits are made up on-the-spot using prompts from the audience and brought to life by their fellow players. Each show is two hours of spontaneous family-friendly comedy that challenges the group's ability to work as a team and most importantly - improvise.

The club started four years ago when Fools! improv player and father of eight, Matt Moore, came to Seton Director Anne Carroll with the idea to start an improv club. The idea was enthusiastically accepted, and Moore began coaching the team. In one challenge during a recent show, the players asked the audience for the subject of a slide show presentation. The group then performed exaggerated scenes from the Battle of Cinco de Mayo, which were then translated humorously by the two slide show presenters Catie Moore and Carolyn Karcher.

For another skit the audience called for the retelling of Rapunzel during the "Fortunately Unfortunately" improv challenge. Two narrators told the story, while the rest of the troupe attempted to act out the scene. One narrator tried to give the story a happy ending, while the other tried to prevent the characters from ever seeing happily ever after.

When asked which challenge they enjoyed the most, many of the group answered enthusiastically "All Hail the Evil King." In this skit the Evil King, played by Patrick Dealey, asks the audience for an object, in this case a driver's license. The Evil King then calls his subjects forth one by one demanding things while also hinting at the object's identity. If the subject does not answer to his satisfaction they are eliminated from the game.

While the skits performed at the show are completely improvised, the group practices under Moore's direction two or three times a month to prepare and assess different player talents.

"They recognize that some people are better at some things than others," said Moore. "They work together to make sure that the team plays to people's strength and everyone gets good stage time." Unlike stand-up comedy, the success of the show does not depend on one person being funny but on the group as a whole building on the comic energy of the others and thinking differently and divergently very quickly.

The troupe works on rhyming, physicality and movement during practice. Physicality is particularly important to keep the illusion of a scene alive since the group rarely uses props.

"If a door is created during a scene, everyone in the skit must remember to recognize the door until it is changed or destroyed," said Moore.

The group has had a positive impact on the individual players and has fostered skills they can use off stage. "You never have to worry about oral reports," said Martin Kelly, who performed in Saturday's show with his sister, Claire. Semper Ridiculum members agree that the experience has helped bring them out of their shells and build confidence in school.

"It's important to be able to laugh at yourself," said Ryan Orr.

Besides building confidence, Moore said that the experience also prepares the students for more serious real-world scenarios.

"Improv helps make better actors, and it can also prepare you for those elevator pitches you make to your boss one day, or even evangelize," said Moore. "It is very important for them to be comfortable talking about their faith on the spot."

Semper Ridiculum will be back with more improvised entertainment with a show in June.

Find out more

For more information on Semper Ridiculum and next year's show schedule, contact Matt Moore at M@ttmoore.com.

Buyers can be reached at abuyers@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015