With multiple weekly rehearsals, shows throughout the community, tournaments throughout the country, and the dedication and determination to place in the top two spots for best college improv group in the nation two years in a row, it takes a lot of liveliness to be a Dead Parrot.
Western’s improv comedy group, the Dead Parrots Society, have been a source of knee-slapping jokes, gut-busting sketches, and the recipients of perplexed glances in Red Square since 1998. With their first place recognition at the 2011 Chicago Improv Tournament and their second place award at this year’s tournament, the Dead Parrots Society have established themselves as one of the best college improv groups in the country.
As the DPS Artistic Director, Miguel Zila has booked shows, hosted shows, marketed, and chosen competition formats for the Parrots for two years of the four years since joining the club.
“It’s like teaching myself how to run a theater company or an independent group,” Zila said. “Running Parrots is more beneficial to me than maybe any class I’m taking all this year just because of those skills and how directly applicable they are.”
Zila said that the since the Parrots won nationals in 2011, the group has had to work harder than ever to publicize themselves and put on more shows in order to finance the travel and competition fees to tournaments for the club’s 13 performing members.
“It has been a really ambitious year from the get-go,” DPS performing member Jake Barrow said. “For Dead Parrots, I feel as though this has been the year of unprecedented expansion.”
The Parrots hold both a private and public rehearsal each week. The open rehearsals, which take place Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. in Humanities 110, are available for anyone to come in and participate in sketches and improv workshops.
Senior Anna Levin said that she came to a Dead Parrots open rehearsal on her first Tuesday as a freshman, and has been coming ever since.
“I encourage anyone I come across who mentions them or if there’s a fleeting sentence about them, I encourage them all to either come to rehearsals or come to a show because they’re a really talented, funny group of people,” Levin said.
During their private rehearsals on Sunday nights, the Dead Parrots get together to hone their improv craft, practice formats for upcoming shows or competitions, as well as evaluate and critique past performances.
The tournament formats that the Parrots are required to adhere to during competition act as a template. Barrow said that usually, the formats involve establishing characters, scenes or conflicts early in the skit. In this year’s Chicago Improv Tournament, the Dead Parrots performed a musical format and an act named “Epic Adventure,” a custom, hybrid format created by the Parrots. Barrow said “Epic Adventure” was created to be a skit with a plot and structure similar to that of a hero’s tale.
“I think that part of the reason why we’ve been successful at the College Improv Tournament so far is that we do try different formats,” Barrow said. “We sort of developed a strategy of preparing a different format to keep things fresh and I think that’s really helped us out so far.”
Zila, who will graduate and leave the Parrots this year along with five other senior members of the core-performing group, said a common misconception about improv is that it is always comedic in nature, but people rarely realize it is also a serious, valid art form.
“Of all the artistic endeavors that I’ve taken part in, this is the most consistent and healthiest and has presented me the most consistent opportunity for growth,” Zila said. “I’m a much better actor because of it and I think I understand human interactions better as well.”