Four performers sat down around a dining room table. There was never a script, and there were never any rehearsals. All the actors know is they are “family,” sitting around the table discussing the day’s events over dinner. The performers are given free rein to develop their characters and play off each other under the constant, watchful eyes of a live audience.
For some, this kind of spontaneous, free-form acting may seem like a nightmare. But for Western’s improv comedy troupe, The Dead Parrots, it often results in comedic gold.
The parrots have been gaining national notoriety since taking first place at the National College Improv Tournament in Chicago on Feb. 26. The competition was put on by the Chicago Improv Festival, which is one of the largest and longest running improv festivals in the nation, Vila said. The Parrots performed closer to home in September at Bumbershoot, a three-day music and arts festival held in the Seattle Center.
Miguel Vila, a fifth-year parrot member and artistic director for the group, said they performed the Family Dinner act, which has appropriately become the “bread and butter” of troupe’s performances, he said. Vila said over 235 people came to watch the parrot’s hour-long set, and another 20 were turned away at the door.
Since 1998, the Dead Parrots Society has encouraged students to participate in improvisational theater, which involves actors performing spontaneously. Improv can be poignant, dramatic or funny, and can take many forms including stand-up comedy, one-person improv, unrelated scenes with different gimmicks built into each, or an improvised play or one-act with the goal of producing a coherent story line. Vila said the 10 member troupe has begun to specialize in long-form improv in particular.
“To be a member of Dead Parrots Society, I think what that has meant has changed over time and over the past few years,” Vila said. “In the past we did some touring around, and that died out a couple years ago, and now that is coming back. Now it means to incorporate people in the community, to try to reach out to people throughout the state, to travel different schools, to work with different local businesses, to travel to competitions. It means a lot of different things.”
For sophomore member Greg Phelps, who began performing with the Parrots in May 2011, the pressure is on as the Parrots gain more and more recognition.
“I find it enthralling and it’s really encouraging. When I joined, it was right after they had won nationals... and when they got back, it was officially like, ‘Wow, I’m playing with some of the top dogs here,’ ” Phelps said. “It keeps me on my toes. We’re expected to continue to improve and put on great shows.”
Vila said the group has big things planned for the upcoming year. He said they would like to once again win the regional and national improv tournaments, and ultimately perform at the Chicago Improv Festival. He said they also plan to submit themselves as a professional improv troupe to perform at the Del Close Marathon in New York. This year’s marathon took place Aug. 12 – 14, and packed 150 shows into one weekend. Improv troupes from all over the country came to perform.
To fund the group’s ambitious plans, Vila said they would need to raise about $15,000.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of fundraising, and beefing up what we do at WWU,” Vila said.
The group has a particular interest in reaching out to the freshman class, and has performed at Summerstart and plans to host shows in the dorms. The Parrots’ next performance will be during Viking Union Late Night on Friday, Sept. 23 in the VU Multi-Purpose Room.