The Strange Bedfellows is Bates’ oldest and only improvisational comedy group. I am a member of the Bedfellows, and we practice and perform improv comedy through short and long form games. Some of the games we play are structured, some involve a large dose of audience participation, and others are loosely based off a random word or suggestion and devoid of any form at all.
This year’s Strange Bedfellows are Ian Erickson ’18, Joseph Alp ’18, Eden Rickolt ’20, Hannah Golub ’21, Katherine Towle ’21, and me, Tricia Crimmins ’19.
The term “Strange Bedfellows” itself usually refers to “unlikely allies or companions.” I’ve always had an affinity for the name, because it perfectly encapsulates the power of improv: allying people and their spontaneous ideas and reactions to produce laughter, surprises, and, within the group, a very sincere and unique form of companionship.
Friendships are built by doing improv together are very particular in that they revolve around trust, self-knowledge, and comradery with fellow performers. Walking onstage without a script or any idea of what you’re about to do is nerve-wracking, and we all get nervous. But the nerves and jitters before shows and scenes are alleviated by the trust that the group members have in one and other. We all have the same goal, which Golub posits as the “immediate reward of getting laughs.” As Alp put it, shows are fun because “we are free to do as we please while also engaging the audience…we are simply ourselves.”
That feeling of freedom and uninhibited expression of self is supported by the trust we have in one another. There’s a sense of responsibility to the scene you build and the people you interact with in improv. When performing, the goal isn’t to “chime in when you have something funny to say,” Rickolt states. Scenes “really work… because of a genuine connection” between “scene partners,” remarks Towle.
To Golub, this is because improv is not about “personal success, it’s all about the success of the group.” She continued, “If I’m not the one getting laughs in the scene, I’m here to be in the scene and keep it going.” Getting laughs and positive reactions from the audience comes naturally when one cooperates with others and the imaginary world within the scene that they’ve created together.
“When I started improv, I was so focused on just making the audience laugh. But, as I’ve gone on, I’ve realized that it becomes so much easier to do that when you build… a scene with rich characters,” notes Erickson.
The reactions and feelings we gauge from the audience are vital contributions to our performances as a whole. “Dating Game” is a short form game that involves a Bedfellow bachelor(ette) on a game show, guessing the mysterious identities of three contestants by asking them a series of questions. The identities of the contestants are known by the audience, allowing them to feel “a part of the process,” explains Alp. Audience members are excited for the answers the bachelor(ette) will receive, because they are in on the joke. “Improv fosters an intimacy with the audience that other forms of performance don’t do as easily,” says Erickson. Both the Bedfellows and the audience are unsure what’s next, as performers “get into situations and scenes that could’ve never been planned,” says Rickolt. “It feels good to make people that you’ve never met laugh,” admits Erickson.