Mr. Gad’s House of Improv Welcomes Three New Members
Issue   |   Tue, 03/03/2015 - 22:50
Mr. Gad's Facebook Page
Mr. Gad's recently accepted three new members, the largest addition in the last five semesters.

Walking through the hallway into Val or the entrance of Keefe you’re likely to have been struck by the promotional posters on display for the weekly shows put on by Mr. Gad’s House of Improv. Perhaps it was one for “Mr. Gad’s Classic Game Night” featuring Khalil Flemming’s head on a game of Whack-a-Mole, or an aging Jesse Pagliuca on a box of men’s Touch of Gray coloring formula, advertising “Mr. Gad’s House of Midlife Crisis.” The eye-catching posters often comically incorporate photographs of the cast with images from pop culture or daily life in order to convey the theme for the upcoming show. Every Monday night at 10 p.m. in the Friedmann room you can join the members of the ensemble as they engage in an hour of long and short-form improv comedy, a form of theater in which everything performed on stage is completely unscripted and invented by the actors on the spot.

A typical night opens with a greeting by one of the cast members, followed by the introduction of the first game to be played and the members of the cast that will be participating. The rules of the game are conveyed to the audience, and are often accompanied by a request for descriptive input from the crowd to set the scene, or for a volunteer to join the Gad’s members up on stage. By the end of the night, the actors in the ensemble will have rotated to put on a show of at least five games, with the final one often including the cast performing as a whole. The house is likely to leave the room in high spirits after an hour packed with laughter and energy.

All members of the group are unique in their comedic styles and thus the diversity brought to the table is certain to make for an exciting show. Any viewer is sure to find entertainment in the intersection of the various different styles of humor encapsulated in the performances put on by members Jesse Pagliuca ‘16, Khalil Flemming ‘16, Danny Curtis ’16 (abroad) Liz Mutter ‘15, Romey Sklar ‘15, Ricky Altieri ‘15, Nathaniel Werner ‘18, Long You ‘17, and graduates Will Savino ’14 (a green dean in Amherst admissions) and Bessie Young ’11 (post-bac at Mt. Holyoke). The ease with which performance seems to come for these members, and the amusement and diversion one finds while watching a Mr. Gad’s show make it easy to overlook the fact that none of what is being produced on stage has been rehearsed. The members are faced with the expectation to not only perform on their feet, but to also spark laughter in the audience while doing so — a task that inevitably carries great pressure.

Comedy improv is a unique form of theater that requires a distinct set of strengths, different from those needed for other types of acting. Skills needed in concentration, quick thinking, and foresight require practice in order to develop and cannot be gained overnight. Many of the members in Gad’s, however, had been unfamiliar with improv before joining the ensemble. Every semester Gad’s holds workshops to offer people the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the types of activities done during auditions. Auditions follow the workshops, and after auditions are callbacks from which the new members are selected. The Gad’s members must unanimously agree in order for an individual to be selected. There is no limit or certain number of people the ensemble seeks to accept each semester, and this semester they let in the most people they have let into Gad’s in the past five semesters. Lauren Weiss ‘18, Noor Qasim ‘18 and Justin Henriksen ‘18 are the three newest members to join the group. This semester the three are training with the group, as all new members do, prior to being able to begin performing regularly on Monday nights.

Pagliuca described the newest members as great additions to the group due to their “completely different styles of humor, which adds to the variety in the group.”

He said Qasim’s poise on stage impressed the Gad’s members during her auditions, along with her versatility and instincts as an improviser who can either lead a scene or move it forward in a supporting role. Weiss’ quick-wittedness and incredible comedic delivery paired with her ability to establish relationships in a scene is a recipe for the organic expression of a funny improv scene. Pagliuca said he expects Henriksen will be well-liked by the audience members, as he is light-hearted, clever and committed to scenes while onstage.

In an interview, Henriksen said that prior to coming to Amherst, he had acted both in and out of school, but had not had much exposure to improv prior to auditioning for Mr. Gad’s.

“I didn’t know who they were until second semester after going to a few of the shows,” he said. “It was really fun to watch, and it seemed like they were having a blast.”

Henriksen attended the workshops, auditioned and got called back. He recounted being surprised with news of his acceptance by a loud bang on his door in the early hours of the morning by the entire Gad’s ensemble. He said initial disappointment upon learning he would not actually be performing until after this semester of training soon subsided as he realized the intimidation that would surely come along with performing in an atmosphere other than the comfort of practicing with the other Gad’s members.

“I don’t really mind the length of training,” he said. “My first time up there is going to be really intimidating. You don’t feel any judgment from the Gad’s group during practice, but once you’re up there performing, you better be funny.”