Under The Bed: Imaginative Improv

“Now do anime!” shouts Caroline Claflin ’05. Rosie duPont ’06 leaps into fighting position and exclaims “Fsssk, fssk, fssk-squirrel power!” There’s only one explanation for this madness: it is an Under the Bed performance. Since its inception nearly a decade ago, Under the Bed, Phillips Academy’s improvisation troupe, has brought joy to Andover Hill through hilarious impromptu skits and games. Many of their common theatre games, including “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “Whose Line Is This?” and the “Dating Game,” have grown in popularity among students. Renowned for their boundless energy and wit, Under the Bed members have continued to bring both the spontaneous and the silly to the Andover stage. The troupe represents the impulsively comic side of theatre. In their performances, they aim to engage the audience, whose participation is crucial to the success of their shows. In a performance last Saturday, the members of Under the Bed chose to capitalize on the competitive sprit of Andover-Exeter weekend by incorporating it into the performance. According to co-head Kendra Allenby ’05, it was more of a performance against “the little piece of Exeter that lurks in each of our souls.” This year, theatre department veterans Claflin and Allenby are the leaders of Under the Bed. To make the group even more successful than in years past, they have decided to give the troupe a group make-over in both style and character. Unlike in previous years, the troupe has chosen to focus on a specific theme for each performance. So far, this year’s themes have included the Andover/Exeter rivalry and the presidential election. During the election-themed performance, the group took advantage of the recent news around the elections to create witty banter on politics. Of the group’s eight members, six are new to the group and bring their own distinct personal flavors to the troupe. This includes everything from the sharp wit of Emma Dorsey ’05 to Nate Scott ’05’s fantastic physical humor, to the terrifically random and creative characters conjured by Ben Lasman ’06. “They bring with them their life experiences, prejudices, and human failings, as well as a diverse and engaging breadth of humor and physicality,” said Allenby. But it takes much more to be good at improvisation than humor, according to the Co-Heads: “A good improv-er has to be able to listen very, very well…they should always be aware of what’s going on in the scene so they can adapt and make it realistic…[and] should be uninhibited in their performance …[because] if they’re embarrassed or not having fun up on stage, the audience won’t have fun either.” Indeed, improv is much more than being able to come up with funny things on the spot, and as with any pursuit, practice is essential in order to improve. Under the Bed practices every Sunday for two hours, where they play and experiment with games either from “the notebook of games” that has been passed down from year to year or simply from their imagination. Afterwards, they make constructive criticisms about one another’s performances, discussing what worked well and what did not. Allenby jokes that “The more you do it, the more comfortable, awesome, hilarious, [and] smelly it becomes.” To create a cohesive atmosphere within the group, Claflin and Allenby frequently hold group activities like troupe dinners and movie nights. Claflin stresses the importance of support in a good improv group. “Unless the troupe members work together, it all falls apart… [members] have to be willing to commit themselves entirely to whatever reality the improv presents them with, and they need to feel comfortable with the people they’re working with… even if a troupe is composed entirely of hilarious people, it will never do good improv unless they work together,” said Claflin. “[Under the Bed] allows you to sit back and laugh at your life…you take the idiosyncrasies and minor issues of life and make them something to laugh at…it’s a way of taking everyday life and creating something spectacular…[it’s like] spontaneous combustion,” said Claflin.