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March 22, 2017

UMass improvisers perform their way to the top

There was nothing funny about the success of the University of Massachusetts’ own comedy troupe at this year’s Beanpot Tournament. Members of Mission IMPROVable took a trip to Boston to compete at the event hosted as part of the College Comedy Festival from Feb. 20 to Feb. 22.

Different from the typical audience that joins Mission IMPROVable in Herter 231 every Saturday, the Beanpot Tournament was comprised of a variety of improv troupes.

“Here at UMass we perform every Saturday and everyone’s just coming to laugh, whereas at the competition we had to focus on doing good improv and following the rules of improv,” explained freshman Mission member, Maisy Halloran. “It was just an awesome experience.”

According to Ben Richman, a junior Communication and English double major and member of Mission, the troupes of all different sizes attended the competition, including one group of three and other groups much larger than Mission, who only brought six members to compete.

Ben Richman, Jonny James, Hemang Kaul, Grace Spelman, Maisy Halloran and Ryan Teixeira represented Mission IMPROVable at the Beanpot Tournament.

Mission IMPROVable was one of 14 improv troupes competing that weekend, including the winning group, Boston College’s Committee for Creative Enactments (CCE), as well as groups from Northeastern University, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Suffolk University.

“We came in second after all the competitions and third overall,” said Richman.

The competition had four stages: short form, line games, long form and fire rounds, all of which are types of improvisation. The three highest scores out of those four stages advanced into the final round, where the winner of the Beanpot was determined.

“There were three judges,” said Hemang Kaul, a freshman economics major at the University who joined Mission IMPROVable during the fall semester. “They judged based on story, skill and entertainment.”

With regards to Mission IMPROVable’s past performances, this year’s success was by no means unusual.

“It used to be a staple that Mission would go,” explained Richman. “The last time they went was in 2007 and they won.”

Improv Boston, a comedy group oriented in the greater Boston area, hosted the Beanpot Tournament. Each year, competing troupes are assigned a coach from Improv Boston. Coincidentally, this year’s Mission IMPROVable coach was UMass and Mission IMPROVable alum Misch Whitaker, who won the MVP award at the Beanpot in 2007.

Following in Whitaker’s footsteps was Mission IMPROVable’s Maisy Halloran. A freshman Hospitality and Tourism Management major, Halloran not only competed for Mission IMPROVable’s troupe in Boston, but was also the recipient of the 2014 Beanpot Tournament MVP award.

Halloran, whose only role in the final rounds of the competition was to say “Hell yeah” in an improv game, was shocked upon receiving this award.

“I totally wasn’t thinking I was going to be MVP, I literally said two words,” she said. “I was just so honored and shocked to be named MVP.”

“I ran on stage and they gave me a bouquet of flowers, it was like I had a boyfriend or something,” said Halloran jokingly.

According to Halloran, Improv Boston gave the MVP award not necessarily based on which improviser was the main focus, but rather the improviser that gave the most ultimate support to their team members and offered everything they could to benefit their fellow improvisers.

As MVP, Halloran was able to speak one-on-one with one of the directors of Improv Boston. In addition, she also has the opportunity to attend a free eight-week course with Improv Boston.

Aside from competing and placing against a number of collegiate improv troupes within the region, members of Mission IMPROVable at the Beanpot Tournament were able to meet and work with the cast members of Improv Boston, many of which are Mission IMPROVable alum.

“There were so many Mission alum. I was blown away,” explained Halloran. “I realized that being in Mission is actually a huge deal, and after you leave UMass, it stands for something.”

Halloran and others saw the Beanpot Tournament as an opportunity to have fun and also improve their improvisational skills for the future.

Outside of the Beanpot Tournament, Mission IMPROVable participates frequently in joint shows with the other two comedy troupes in Student Valley Productions (SVP).

Mission IMPROVable rehearses on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. As of recently, the group is now hosting open rehearsals on Saturdays from 3-5 in Herter 231, where anyone who wants to can join Mission members and try improv with the group.

Katrina Borofski can be reached at kborofski@umass.edu.

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