The improv group Second Place Champions, which got its start at Rowan University, performed various skits with input from the audience at Rowan After Hours on Saturday night.
Before the show began, Kyle Hamilton, the winner of Student University Programmers’ Laugh Off Comedy Competition, opened with original comedic content of his own. He talked about a variety of topics, including the mattresses at Rowan, calling his mother, being an EMT and needing to poop while in a car.
“It was super short notice not knowing if I would win Laugh Off and if I would perform tonight, but a lot of it was pulled from stuff I already had and stuff I’ve already done before,” said Hamilton, a senior elementary education major. “I keep a list on my phone of what I consider to be genius ideas.”
The four improvisers of Second Place Champions includes two alumnus from Rowan: Steve Grande, who graduated in 2010, and Tyler Garamella, who graduated in 2013. The concept for the group came together when Grande started Rowan’s first improv troop in 2009, where he eventually met Garamella.
The name of the group was created before Grande graduated and involved a lot of deliberation.
“A bunch of improvisers get in a room and try to think of the stupidest name possible and that’s the one that worked for us,” Grande said. “The runner-up to Second Place Champions was Red Cup Speakeasy because at the time, the president, Donald Farish, he wrote an article because college parties were getting out of hand and he called them ‘red cup speakeasies.’”
The other two performers on Saturday, Justin Schilling and Kira Redzinaic, joined Second Place Champions after Grande graduated and began doing improv professionally.
The group performs together when they can, traveling to different colleges, but doing shows can sometimes be difficult given that they live far from each other. Grande and Garamella live in Chicago while Schilling and Redzinaic live in the New York metropolitan area.
“Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes we just miss each other,” Schilling said. “Sometimes we just want to get together and practice a little bit more, but [Grande] is pretty good at getting us together and arranging travels.”
Second Place Champions pride themselves in allowing the audience to shape the show. Before every scene, they ask the audience to yell suggestions for location, emotions, characters and other factors that are important.
For some parts of the show, audience members were invited onstage to help with their performance. In one sketch, sophomores Denny Hill and April Licato, who are both math education majors, were brought onstage to describe their first date. The improvisers then recreated the scene for the audience based on the information they provided.
“Parts of it were really accurate but other parts weren’t,” Licato said. “For talking to us for five minutes about our entire date, which I can’t even remember completely, they were pretty spot on.”
For another scene, two audience members were brought onstage and told two of the performers would not move unless physically maneuvered. Senior biology major Stephanie Berman, one of the audience members chosen, enjoyed being part of the scene but struggled to contain her laughter and remember her instructions.
“It was so fun to work with such creative people,” Berman said. “The most difficult part was remembering I had to move Kira because I was too busy laughing at what she was saying.”
Many audience members, including sophomore biomedical engineering major Hanna Dietrich, appreciated the references Second Place Champions made to Rowan.
“I liked it a lot,” Dietrich said. “I really enjoyed that two of the four improv people were from Rowan so they made a lot of references to Rowan that were very true. That was very cool because they knew their audience.”
The members of Second Place Champions, who are all dedicated to performing, encourage students who want to pursue artistic careers to never give up and take control.
“With something along the lines of acting, stand-up comedy or any of those fields, you’re going to get people who absolutely love everything you do and people who don’t,” Schilling said. “You’re going to get people who tell you to do other things, but if it’s something that fulfills you and makes you really happy, just do it.”
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