Improvisational comedy is among the most unknown forms of acting within the world of theater. Sure, there are stand-up shows and comical theatrical performances put on by students, but ASU improv club Barren Mind Improv may be the least advertised.
Farce Side Comedy, the main comedy club at ASU, would occasionally add improvisational stand-up bits when a performer was absent, and those shows grew into what would become Barren Mind in 1994.
In 2000, Farce Side and Barren Mind lost funding for their shows, but they continue to operate as student-run clubs with regular performance spots at the Union Stage.
This year, the improv team is directed by communications junior Justin Steckman, who joined Barren Mind his freshman year at ASU after dabbling with improv in high school.
“I like doing improv, because it allows you to be free,” Steckman said. “You make up whoever (or) whatever you want, and you get to just be crazy for a little bit. Plus, I really just like making people laugh.”
Steckman and Assistant Director Noah Findling, a journalism and mass communication sophomore, are responsible for running rehearsals, hosting shows and doing workshops with the cast.
“Justin and I will usually discuss what we want to do in practice, and before the semester started, we talked about what we want this troupe’s ‘identity’ to be,” Findling said. “So any time we offer notes to our troupe members, it is always to validate our own perceptions of the troupe’s identity.”
To have a successful troupe, Findling explained that they have to play interesting, corky characters and that the team must have an incredibly high-energy level.
Although the team is never too short of people attending their events – about 100 people go to their weekly shows – students are still encouraged to arrive and engage in a night full of made-up fun.
Robbie Boccelli, an English literature junior, said he’s never seen a Barren Mind show before, but he’d be open to attending one of their events.
“It takes a lot of guts,” Boccelli said. “You get a nice divide between people that acted or did improv in high school and the rush of kids hoping to show how funny they are. It’s hit or miss, but a fun time overall.”
Now that the troupe has a new cast and is underway of rehearsals, Steckman is feeling good about the team and Findling has high expectations.
“I definitely think we have the talent to make a run at L.A. at the National College Improv Tournament again this year,” Findling said. “In such a short time, we all have really come together and become good friends, which is really important if we want to win in L.A.”
Barren Mind has won regionals at this tournament twice before. Steckman also plans on having the team travel to an improv festival that USC’s improv troupe puts on every year.
Barren Mind Improv performs every Thursday at 12 p.m. and every second Friday of the month at 9 p.m. at the lower level of the MU beneath Taco Bell. Students are encouraged to come out, relax and have a good laugh that Steckman said most college students, sadly, don’t take the time to do.
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