Dog Day hones comedic instincts in rehearsal

by Frances Cha | 1/13/04 6:00am

Though both short and long form comedy fall under the umbrella of improv comedy, this reporter soon found out that they are entirely different beasts after attending the long form-based rehearsal of the Dog Day Players, the College's oldest improv comedy group.

Friday 5:30 p.m., Wilson Hall, Room 301 " Dog Day Players

Once the Players had taken their boots and layers off and had stopped shivering from the cold, Cliff Campbell '04 opened rehearsal with this week's announcements. One important show coming up for the group this term is the Alumni Show, for which distinguished alumni from the troupe's 10-year history have been invited to return to the Dartmouth campus. Colin Murray '04 described the list as "50 distinguished people and one that doesn't quite fall into that category." Included is a writer for South Park, an interview producer for The Daily Show and the writer and star of an off-Broadway comedy about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Following announcements, phase one of the warm-ups resembled an off-beat "hokey pokey" and was accompanied by a number chant. They then split up into groups of two or three and quickly slipped into three-line scenes for a few more minutes of warm-up. The rest of the rehearsal was entirely devoted to long form.

When asked about the two types of improv, Murray said that he personally prefers short form at Dartmouth. "The campus has seen only short form for ten years or so, so that's what most people expect when they see an 'improv show' advertised," said Murray. "However, the rush that you get as a performer from having a solid long form show is much more intense and sustained than the post-short form show shakes, which is more of an adrenaline rush." Murray also said that the Players as a group felt that their long form hasn't gotten to that level quite yet, and that was the reason they had not had a long form show yet this year.

And so, without further ado, the Players dove right into long form comedy. Two chairs were set up in the middle as one Player received a one-word cue from the audience (namely, this reporter), and proceeded to launch into a full-blown monologue. Once it was over, the other Players took various details from the monologue as inspiration, and introduced several seemingly unrelated scenes that somehow became interwoven by the end. The first hilarious set of scenes involved talking books, magical French bread, smuggled Peruvian cola and lots of vomiting. Scene changes were signaled by "swiping," which involved the other members running lightly across the performance space. Corresponding sound effects were interjected with great amusement by the Players who were not in the scene taking place.

After a number of these sets, the group came together to discuss that day's rehearsal. Heated discussion and suggestions ensued, with the main topic being character development. As almost half of the troupe has had an extensive theater background, the members drew from their stage experience in trying to explain their visions for the group. "The difference between a good show and a bad show is attention to the character," said Murray. "When you can actually feel your character and when whatever actions you take in the scene becomes instinctive, that's when it becomes truly great," he said. Campbell agreed; "That's what you learn in acting -- mentally we should go back to the character every time."

Dave Faherty '07 said that he initially had not been too excited about long form in rehearsals. "Long form is very difficult in many ways, and it even gets rather boring at times," but he went on to add that practicing long form did help improve his short-form. Faherty also said that rehearsals have been geared more towards acting; "We've done exercises on props and working them into our scenes. We've had weeks and weeks of acting-intensive rehearsals that also focus on keeping the plot funny."

Do audiences appreciate the time and effort gone into these intense rehearsals? "I think we attract a crowd that is just as amused by scatological antics as they are by religious and literary references. We always aim high, but sadly it's hard to have a show without at least one poop joke," said Murray.