Improv Comedy with a Heart

November 14, 2017

Twenty-four hours with Denison’s Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company, the nation’s longest running collegiate improv group, would test the stamina of even the most passionate comic. But the siren call of the gods and goddesses of comedy cannot be ignored. Neither can the people of the hurricane-ridden Virgin Islands, whom the comedy marathon raised funds for in the fall of 2017.

And this year’s marathon was even longer than 24 hours. Just six hours before the show began, the Burpees were on stage at TedX Columbus, performing improv about trust. Acacia Duncan, a coordinator to the “Tedx Columbus: Trust” event, believes that improv comedy is a powerful medium to demonstrate trust — improv is art performed entirely on the spot, where actors must have implicit trust in their fellows.

Duncan knew about the Burpees through her work as an actor with Available Light Theatre, a Columbus theatre group and artist-in-residence with the Denison theatre department. For the TedX event, the Burpees performed for an audience of more than 750 people at the Riffe Center in downtown Columbus. The show will be featured in the globally streamed event.

Burpee member Meg Odell ’19 shares her behind-the-stage view in this Q&A:

What is the Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company?

We are an improvisational comedy troupe, founded in 1979 as an outgrowth of a theatre class taught by Denison professor Kevin Hoggard. Burpee’s is the nation’s oldest running collegiate improv group. Burpee’s has seen hundreds of Denison students fill its ranks, most notably award-winning actor Steve Carell ’84. Using audience inputs to create hilarious scenes, Burpee’s shows are a huge hit both on and off campus.

Tell me about the 24-hour Show.

Before the show, all of the Burpees met and prepared. We brought pajamas, toiletries, blankets, snacks, and anything that would help us stay comfortable and strong for the next 24 hours.

The first hour (10 to 11 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 3) and last hour (9 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4) functioned as typical Burpees shows. We had set lists with 8-10 games planned out, the first hour including audience favorites, such as “Onion,” “Four Play,” and “Madrigal,” but the last hour included many games that we had created ourselves on the spot during the 24-hour show.

Apart from those two hours, the remaining 22 were totally unplanned and had no format. We simply picked games that we wanted to play in the moment, and made sure that there was always a game being played onstage. A few of our favorites included “Sing it, Sandra!” a game set to instrumental music where members had to sing their way through a scene, “Lurking in the Shadows (Existential Dread),” where the Burpees hid in various parts of the theatre and I played haunting music on the piano while we all vented about things that scared us/stressed us out, and “Men of Utah,” a game based off of our already existing game “Challenge,” but focusing solely on the men of Utah.

We paced ourselves through the marathon by taking a handful of 30-minute naps over the course of the show, but only a few of us at the same time. The audience was very kind and generous, and as it happens every year, they brought us food and coffee throughout the show. Denison celebrities including theatre Chair Mark Evans-Bryan, theatre Professor Eleni Papaleonardos, music Professor Belinda Andrews-Smith, and President Adam Weinberg showed up to support the Burpees and our cause. We were even showered by donuts, thanks to Belinda and her husband Bart, and President Weinberg and his daughter brought us a grocery bag full of assorted snacks!

In terms of fundraising, we offered “donation-requests.” For a donation via cash or Venmo, the Burpees would take any game or activity request. Some requests included games for specific members to play, but other requests were very specific. A few requests that stood out were making Sara Hartsock ‘18 and Atticus Daniels ‘20 face each other for 3+ minutes and say “I love you” to each other back and forth; reenacting the opening number to the film “Prince of Egypt;” doing a shadow cast version to “Ohmigod You Guys” from the musical Legally Blonde; and serenading various audience members in a playfully-mocking-Hilltoppers style.

How much did you raise?

We raised over $300!

More information on Burpees: Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram (@denisonburpees) for more frequent updates on shows and events.

More about the Denison U.S Virgin Island Hurricane Relief Project: The U.S. Virgin Islands were destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in early September 2017. Many people lost their homes. The schools, roads, telephone poles, hospitals, fire stations, and grocery stores were ripped apart. Many people were left without basic necessities. Náamah Leerdam ’19 is working with the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and other departments to raise money for her home community. We are focusing on the U.S. Virgin Islands because as a territory of the United States their needs have been overlooked after the devastation in Puerto Rico and the mainland. Donations are accepted through Venmo.

Burpees bios:

Maggie Chamberlain ‘19: Communications Major, Theatre Minor. Originally from Minneapolis, Minn. Editor for the Bullsheet, Denison Leadership Fellow, Keeper of the Key for DITA, President of Women’s Performance Group, DJ on WDUB, and August Orientation Leader.

Atticus Daniels ‘20: Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics Major. Originally from Canal Winchester, Ohio. Current Student Body Vice President and future US President in 2040.

Sara Hartsock ‘18: Women & Gender Studies Major with a Queer Studies Concentration. Originally from Los Angeles, Calif. Producer of the Denison Genital Monologues, Vice President of the Denison Feminist Society, a Women & Gender Studies and Queer Studies Fellow, and a certified grandmother.

Cierra King ‘20: Communications Major and Theatre Minor. Originally from Columbus, Ohio. Member of Tehilla, Denison Women’s Rugby player, and a Resident Assistant in Curtis West.

Peter Malicky ‘18: Biology Major, Psychology Minor. Originally from Mequon, Wis. Plays Alto Saxophone in Denison’s Jazz Ensemble, Actor in Theatre shows, works in the Theatre Dept. Scene Shop, First Year Advisor, and Coordinator of Denison Outdoor Orientation.

Tommy McMaster ‘19: History Major and on the Pre-Med track. Originally from Novi, Mich. Student Senator in DCGA, President of DCA, and a Player on the Denison Men’s Lacrosse Team.

Meg Odell ‘19: Theatre Major and Vocal Performance Minor. Originally from Sacramento, Calif. Nationally Ranked Musical Theatre Vocalist, Choreographer of Heath High School Theatre Program, Producer of the Denison Genital Monologues, Member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Resident Assistant in Sawyer.

Kate Piscetta ‘19: (Currently abroad in Prague.) Communications Major, Minor in either Environmental Studies or Cinema. Originally from Akron, Ohio. Marketing Vice President of Denison Enterprises, member of Delta Gamma, and sends pictures of cute dogs to her family group chat on a daily basis.

Erin Stewart ‘20: Theatre and English Major. Originally from Las Vegas, Nev. Member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and a proud Gryffindor. Regularly performs in Singer’s Theatre Workshop, Theatre Dept., and DITA productions.

Sarah Wilson ‘20: Theatre and English Major. Originally from Pelham, N.H. Member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, a Tour Guide for Denison, and a fiery Aries. Regularly performs in Singer’s Theatre Workshop, Theatre Dept., and DITA productions.

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