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Student theater group offers Halloween improv to enthusiastic crowd

November 2nd, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Rachel Kenley

LOGAN – The play opened just like any predictable murder mystery: with a radio announcing that the “Rocky Mountain killer” was still at large during a blizzard. The announcement was quickly followed by the murder of two characters in a diner. But that is where the predictability ends, and the fun really begins.

The cast of characters in Utah State University’s Theater Student Association’s annual Halloween Show ranged from a Humphrey Bogart-inspired detective to a tattooed woman in camouflage pants, called “Tank.” After a few scenes, they begin to systematically search for Victor the killer – who is in their midst dressed as a woman complete with wig, small makeshift bosoms made from balloons, and an accent of questionable origin. During the investigation, the characters play the board game “Clue,” host a costume contest, make love connections with each other and an alien, dance with pumpkins, and break the fourth wall, causing one to exclaim, “They know it’s a play now!”

The fun is different each time the show is performed. On Halloween night, Victor, played by William McConnell, and and Ms. Heart, played by Shanice Holt, played a father-daughter duo trying to kill each other. In other performances, McConnell and Holt experimented with spouses, siblings, twins, and mother/son relationships. This was possible because Michael Haycock, the 21-year-old playwright, gave the actors liberty to improvise in the script. “I often wrote in the script ‘this scene should be improvised,’” he said.

For Holt, 21, this was her favorite part of the production. “Because it was written by a student, we had a lot of freedom for ad lib. That’s not normal for most plays.”

Holt and Haycock are both members of the professional comedy improv troupe known as The Antics, as is the show’s director, Jess Wallace, and three of the other actors.

Lee Phillips, a 22-year-old who played the oblivious chef Chris, attributed his success to his work with the troupe. “This [show] is my first big break,” he said jokingly. “I’ve done a little community theater in the past, but I’ve mostly been involved in improv. My experience with The Antics prepared me well for theater work.”

Wallace, who volunteered to direct the show, said she thought it was a perfect fit for her. “It was heavy on improv and comedy – I have a knack for that and felt I would do well.” She also admitted that having a cast mainly composed of freshman or less experienced actors presented a challenge, but that meeting the challenge was exciting. “I loved when I saw different principles clicking with the actors,” Wallace said. “It’s great to direct something and then see it go up on the stage.”

If there is anything more impressive than the largely unscripted, spontaneous nature of the production, it’s that it was completely student-run.

“This was my first USU show,” said McConnell, 19. “I was very impressed by the TSA. It’s student-run, but it’s done professionally.”

Wallace also stressed that the show was written, directed, designed, and performed by students and young adults. “This is where our education is made up, in a practical sense,” she said. “The survival of the TSA depends upon the support of students and the community, and it’s pivotal to our education.”

While theater education was obviously important, the cast said overwhelmingly that working with each other and becoming friends was their favorite part of the production. Every rehearsal was fun, they concluded together, and it showed- because their performance was fun too.


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