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College improv festival set to deliver laughs at Ohio Union

Awkward Silence, Bad Genetics, Pudding-Thank-You, and The Immediate Gratification Players are all coming to Ohio State this weekend for one reason: Bellwether.

The Bellwether Improv Festival is the largest college improvisation comedy festival in the Midwest, said Nate Varrone of 8th Floor Improv, an improv group at Ohio State comprised of OSU students. The long-form style of improv chooses a word or inspiration and then creates 20 minutes to an hour of improv sketch comedy, Varrone said.

The festival will be held this weekend, starting at 6 p.m. in the Ohio Union’s US Bank Conference Theatre. Nine collegiate and three professional improv groups will perform, along with 8th Floor Improv.

The goal of the festival is to build the community and expose students to the unique art of long-form improv, Varrone said.

“I think Ohio State is a unique place to have an awesome improv festival, and I think it’s been missing it for a few years,” he said.

After traveling to various festivals and college campuses, 8th Floor Improv has invited the top improv groups from around the country to showcase their unique styles and talents, Varrone said.

“We really want a festival that’s worth hosting,” Varrone said. “We only want the best long-form (improv) teams. … We picked out the groups that we know are good and can put on a great show.”

Ben Smith, leader of Harvard University’s The Immediate Gratification Players, said that the audience should expect a unique, high-energy performance from the group while wearing their trademark red and yellow ties.

“With every show, the audience and performers have an unspoken agreement that you’re along for this ride, and no one knows where it’s going to go,” Smith said. “Once you start, it’s hard to want to stop.”

One of Chicago’s professional teams, Pudding-Thank-You, is coming back to OSU to perform for a third time. Founder Ryan Patrick Dolan said that Bellwether is a great way for his group to bring the fun from Chicago to a different audience.

“We play silly and loose, and we’re ridiculous, but we actually take it very seriously,” Dolan said. “I think the audience enjoys having fun. We have a great time on stage, and it shows.”

Varrone said that improv requires both the performers and audience members to build the experience together.

“Anything can happen. Anything you say is true. If I say there is a rocket ship about to explode, then there is a rocket ship about to explode,” Varrone said.

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