Ready, Set, Improv!

Among Bradley’s many student-led groups, the Barbecue Kitten Improv & Sketch Comedy Troupe takes the cake when it comes to pushing individuals outside of their comfort zone to produce raw, unhindered entertainment. The success of this group is due in part to its members’ diverse backgrounds and areas of study.

“The troupe functions at its best when there are a lot of different majors, backgrounds and experiences involved. There are usually more theatre majors than any other one major, but they certainly don't hold a monopoly on the troupe,” said Travis Stern, associate professor in theatre arts, who serves as the BBQ Kittens' faculty advisor .

Stern conducts workshops and provides materials to help team members feel more comfortable performing in front of an audience. The nature of improv requires all participants make solid and defined choices.

“If the choices an improviser makes are not clear and defined, the work doesn't really go anywhere, and the audience reactions (or lack thereof) provide immediate feedback when things are working or not working.”

Senior Anthony Pollos is president of the club and has been a member since he was a first-year student in 2019. As a game design major, he said improv has enriched his college experience beyond his expectations.

“It’s given me the confidence to work with large groups of people and has strengthened my public speaking skills, which I’ll need when pitching or presenting game projects,” he said. Since the name of the improv game is thinking on your feet, Pollos acknowledged it’s prepared him to act quickly and decisively.

The key to a successful improv performance comes down to trusting your on-stage partners. Stern runs an exercise with the troupe called “Loser Ball,” that has two rules: 1. When the ball is thrown your way, don’t catch it; 2. Everyone celebrates when you follow rule No. 1. It’s about trusting those around you to be supportive even when you fail.

“People feel more ready to risk and take chances when they accept that failure is going to be seen as a positive part of the process,” Stern said. “The confidence that goes along with that is what really helps with the shyness and other social anxieties that a lot of us feel on a day-to-day basis.” He added if the performers don’t trust each other, it’s apparent on stage.

The BBQ Kittens meet twice a week. Mondays are closed rehearsals for members only and Wednesdays are open — anyone can join in the fun and participate in improv games or just sit back and watch. Monthly performances take place at Neumiller Lecture Hall in Bradley Hall.

“We ask the audience for topics as starting points for the performers,” Pollos said. “It allows them to be more engaged in the performance as a whole, and blurs the line between the audience and the troupe in the best way possible.”

Although he will graduate this spring, he’s not hanging up his improv act. “Wherever I end up after my time with Bradley, I will find comedy clubs in the area and, depending on my availability, I will certainly look into doing improv again!”

Go to the BBQ Kittens website for upcoming performance dates and check out their Instagram feed.

Emily Potts