Through holiday-related themes and one-word suggestions, Reflex Improv Comedy shares spontaneous imagination and entertainment in its bimonthly performances.
The group, based in the theater department, performs short and long-form skits for audiences without pre-planning scripts or discussing content.
“I think [improv] is one of the most creative and imaginative things you can do,” said Layke Fowler, co-president of Reflex. “To just create an entire story from a single word is ridiculous. I think seeing that done can be uplifting.”
Reflex started in the 1970s “as a fun student improv group,” but only lasted for a few years. In the 1990s it was revived and has been “thriving” ever since.
“A staff member who is no longer here decided to bring it back,” said Tristan Zavaleta, a senior theater education major. “He gathered a few students, I think he handpicked them, and revived Reflex.”
Reflex Improv's next show will be at 10:30 p.m. Oct. 12 in AJ 114.
Tickets are $2, but guests can bring clothes donations in exchange for the price. Donations will be given to Muncie Mission.
A few years into the revival, Fowler said the staff member had to go on medical leave, but the students did not want the group to end again, which is how Reflex became student run.
“It’s really just continued from there,” Fowler said. “I think with how the theater and improv work together...it just makes sense to have a team.”
Zavaleta has performed improv since his sophomore year in high school. Now in his seventh year, Zavaleta said he has “[fallen] in love” with improv.
“I think I was interested in it because I had seen some of the shows my freshman year, a lot of my friends were in it and it looked like a lot of fun to me,” Zavaleta said. “I thought I'd be good at it, and I did theater, so it seemed like a fun thing to add. I just kind of fell in love with the whole thing because it's really special to me.”
As a freshman, Zavaleta auditioned for the team, which is a requirement for everyone who wants to join.
During auditions, Fowler said the group plays games for three hours. They chose games that tell as much about a person and their talent as possible, and at the end, they host interviews to see if the individual fits in the group personality wise.
“Auditioning is the most difficult thing in the entire world, and we try to make it as fun as possible and as easy as possible,” Fowler said.
Tara Heilwagen, co-president of Reflex, said before auditions every year, the club assesses the current team to take into consideration the diversity of the group.
This year, the group brought on four new female members, coincidentally, shifting the team from five girls and five boys to nine girls and five boys.
“Diversity in comedy has always been kind of lacking for the last 50 years or longer because comedy usually turns into a boys' club,” Fowler said. “During last year’s auditions, I remember, we had one girl, and we were like, 'That’s not OK. We can do much better than this.'
“This year we definitely didn’t specifically set out to take on only women, but it was definitely something that we looked for… They were just so good that there was no way we couldn’t take them.”
After auditions, Reflex rehearsals are scheduled for a time when everyone can meet to work on skills and quick timing.
“We have things we do to warm up and those are pretty simple. We call them games,” Heilwagen said. “We do a lot of rhyming games. Typically, they consist of us just standing in a circle and going from one person to another trying to keep up the rhyme.”
The group also organizes exercises to help get members on the same page. For example, two people would say two different words and then try to simultaneously agree on the middle between those words.
This year, Heilwagen has really tried to bring more structure to rehearsals, even though the group is based on improvisation.
“Basically, I try and organize what the group is going to be doing each week… because in the past, we just kinda did whatever we wanted in rehearsals and a lot of people felt the need for more structure,” Heilwagen said. “I think everyone can take it a bit more seriously when there’s a plan of what we’re gonna do.”
In the past, Reflex also focused more on short-form improv, but it has shifted to mostly long-form during performances.
“It was only a few years before my freshman year that Reflex started doing long-form improv, which is more what they do in Chicago. They improvise full sets of twenty to thirty-minute stories,” Zavaleta said. “We normally do montages, which is a type of long-form where we just perform a bunch of different scenes that loosely relate to each other and tell a somewhat cohesive story.”
For every show, Reflex hopes to have fun and not take themselves too seriously.
“I just want people to come and have a good time and enjoy themselves at our shows because that’s what it’s all about,” Heilwagen said. “Even though I said before that we were trying to make things more organized, we never want that to overbear having fun… It’s improv comedy. We just want to have fun, and we want everyone else to have fun watching us.”
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