A TOAST to improv

Emilee Klein


Emilee Klein

The stage TOAST improv troupe performed on the evening of Oct. 11, 2019.

Emilee Klein , Writer

Energy buzzed throughout the room as a chant drowned out the party music.

“Toast! Toast! Toast!” the audience echoed as TOAST came half running, half dancing down the aisle onto the stage. After a few quick dance moves and an introduction, one of the members asked the audience, “All we need from you is a word.”

“Talent Show!” someone cried from the crowd.  

“The word is talent show,” a troupe member responded as the group cleared the stage for a new string of ad-libbed scenes.

TOAST is UMass Comedy League’s long-form improv troupe. Unlike mini structured games of short-form improv, long-form improv shows consist of extended blocks of improvisational skits, varying from one hour plays to a montage of five to 20-minute scenes. 

“We say, ‘this is a show, we swear we haven’t written it. It’s gonna happen once and it’s never gonna happen again,’” director of TOAST and senior Thomas Coughlin said. “It’s also a form where we get to interact with our audience much more than a play or something where there is no host or fourth wall break.”

Unlike other art forms, improv practices focus more on skills rather than memorizing notes, dances or music. These abilities include listening, relationship-building, playing off your scene partner and miming objects during scenes. The troupe’s skills are continually sharpened in rehearsals and democratic decisions by the 12 members of the student-run group.

“Improv takes a lot of training. It’s not like say, choir where you can kinda study it and you can memorize it. But [in improv] there is this certain level of skill-building that you need to do just to help and get used to. Improv is very environment based,” said Griffith Wood, freshman TOAST member.  “You kinda have to build a relationship with the people you are with to understand what they are gonna say, what jokes won’t fly with them [and] how to comedically bounce off of each other.” 

Besides making people laugh, TOAST hopes their shows will unite the community. The group put together a fundraiser show in collaboration with the climate justice organization, the Sunrise Movement after feeling inspired by the Climate Strike that happened on campus in late September. 

The charity show that raised $320 only took three days to put together after one of the members pitched the idea. In the past, TOAST has also raised money for Craig’s Door and the community of the Tree of Life Synagogue after the shooting in Pittsburgh last October.

“When it comes down to it, when you ask what makes TOAST unique among improv groups, it’s that I think we try to make an effort to be community members. We might not know everybody in the audience but connections are formed. We are meeting people, People return; there’s that type of community.” TOAST Producer Jared Sarnie said.

Whether TOAST members are connecting in rehearsals or reaching out to the public, they say the community allows them to stay grounded in their comedy.  

“In improv and comedy, trying to be funny is not where real funniness comes from. It’s if you’re being honest. It’s if you’re being real, then the comedy will come through that,” Coughlin said.

TOAST includes community connection within their performance itself. The audience’s energy, reactions and interactions play an important role in how the troupe executes their shows. 

Sarnie believes that a play may have a different audience with distinct energy each performance, but “the words that are written on the page are gonna stay the same. You can do that exact same show with the audience not there, and fundamentally it wouldn’t change.” 

“With what we do, the presence of the audience and the fact that this is happening right now, in this moment, that’s a shared experience that we can only create together,” Sarnie said. 

TOAST performs every Friday at 8 p.m in Herter 231 and the first Tuesday of every month at O’s Music Bar in Sunderland.

Email Emilee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @emileeklein.

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