High five for fifth wall: Comedy troupe prepares for local improv competition


Rachel Lock, Web Editor

The stage lights go up, and the performers take their places. The show is ready to begin, but neither the performers nor the audience have any idea what will happen on stage. There are no lines, sets, costumes or anything else usually associated with theater.
While this may seem alarming, for the Blue Valley Improv Troupe, Fifth Wall, this is a reality.  Their performances consist of various improvisation games led by audience suggestions. This year, the stakes will be raised even higher as the team competes at a local improv competition, Comedy City.
Sophomore Lauren Browning and senior Calum Fletcher discussed their excitement and the obstacles they have to face with the new team dynamic. Browning said her favorite part of being on Fifth Wall is seeing the audience’s reaction. Fletcher said Fifth Wall allows him to be more flexible in a performance.
“It’s some great exercise for building up your creativity, especially for acting,” Fletcher said. “In theater, you only have some freedom in your character, but in improv, you can play whatever character you can think of.”
Browning said she thinks Comedy City will be an excellent challenge for her and the rest of the team.
“When we do anything competitively, we will have to learn new skills,” she said. “It will be healthy and good prep for State and future competitions. Also, the restrictions on the specific game requirements will teach us how to succeed with new games and to use new tactics.”
Browning said learning this new way to perform has caused some challenges for the team.
“The fact that you never know what is going to come at you is a pretty big challenge,” Browning said. “The competition has more direct points we get, and it is not just about getting laughs — it’s  more structured improv, so we have to focus on more than being funny. We can only have four performers each competition, so that will be a new restriction for us. It will be difficult trying to use that dynamic.”
Fletcher said competitive improv brings up complications.
“We don’t possess too much experience in head-to-head improvisation, so that might be a challenge,” Fletcher said.
Despite this, Fletcher said he is ready to face that challenge. Last year, the Fifth Wall team won the annual state-wide competition at the Kansas State Thespian Conference, and Browning said she believes this success will continue this year.
“We will destroy it, and we are working really hard. We are putting in a lot of extra hours, and [junior] Jefferson [Harwood], our captain, is really working on our strategy. We’re really focusing on State this year, and I think we have a good chance,” she said. “Nothing can stop us now.”
Besides the new competitions, Browning said the team’s structure has changed in other instances, too.
“We have a lot more sophomores on the team, and as the members change, there are different dynamics each person brings a different aspect to,” Browning said. “This year, so far, we have been really focusing a lot on story games, so a lot of the games have more plot and development to them. The overall change, I think, is that there is a more focused energy.”
Fletcher said the team has undergone changes since he was on it in previous years.
“We definitely have more underclassmen than we’ve been with in the past, and things can get a bit manic,” Fletcher said. “But it’s still a friendly environment. The biggest change is our leader, Jefferson Harwood. This is the first year we’ve had a non-senior in charge of Fifth Wall, and it’s great to see such a dedicated improvador who puts in his best efforts.”
Browning said more people have been attending the shows lately.
“So far, attendance has been fantastic,” Browning said. “We actually moved our first show out of the Black Box [Theater], which is normally where the first show is held because the numbers were so huge. The freshmen are showing a lot of interest in our group, which is neat and shows a promising future for Fifth Wall. It’s looking good, and I think it will continue to grow as more people find out about Fifth Wall.”
Browning said the audience of the show can really affect the performance.
“You have to make sure your show reflects what that audience is looking for,” Browning said. “When we are playing for different venues, such as when we perform at Relay For Life, it has to be a completely different kind of show. We can’t make any Blue Valley High jokes there, so that’s a challenge. Audiences’ suggestions are interesting, and you never know what you’re going to get.”