The art of improvisation is enticing enough with its fine edge of unexpectedness, but throw in a little piano riff and things really get cooking. Just ask recent 2016 sound design undergraduate and Atlanta, Georgia native, Will Kommor. He played improv piano during his time in Savannah and continues to do so back in his hometown. In April, however, he lent his specialized talent to the Vittum Theater in Chicago, Illinois at the ninth season of the College Improv Tournament (CIT).
“We decided that just for fun and to blow people’s minds a little bit, we were going to do that for a scene, and if by chance we won that and we got to the final round, we were going to go completely different and do a scene with music instead,” Kommor said.
“This is like once in a blue moon. We were going to go completely different, and we set up a rental process for a keyboard in Chicago… and we actually won, and somebody else had miraculously brought a keyboard to the theatre. So we used that and didn’t have to go get the other one. So for that set, instead of acting, I played the piano.”
In its ninth season, the CIT hosted 136 teams, each of which competed over a period of 5 months in 14 different U.S. cities. The final round in Chicago saw SCAD’s own improv team–Sad Dads–snatch second place overall behind the University of Iowa’s team, Paperback Rhinos.
Sad Dads is composed of a melting pot of majors, as Kommor pointed out only two group members are performing arts students. Members include film majors, Erwin Brock and Joel Lawson, performing arts majors, Courtney Fortner and Samantha Binkerd, dramatic writing major, Boyce Powell, illustration major, Morgan Heslin, and graphic design major, Jade Thomas. Together Sad Dads found their shared improv experience in Chicago, both educational and exhilarating.
“We kind of took the same mentality we had going into Sarasota for our regional tournament with, ‘We’re not gonna try to win. We’re going to try to be the best we can personally be, and we’re gonna to network and be friends with as many people as possible,'” explained Kommer.
“So we did that, and we met the coolest people, and we pushed ourselves to do the best show I think we’ve ever done ever. They said the first round that we did was the best set they had seen all day, period,” he added.
An improv set is about twenty minutes of whatever the actors decide to make of that given time constraint. Perhaps the most interesting and equally terrifying element of the performance process is none of the set is planned beforehand, aside from a loose layout.
“We plan none of it beforehand.”
“Except I will say, we can plan how we go about it. We have a form, which is how you want to specifically structure your set. Sad Dads is a form called barbecue, and we will take turns doing little scenes in a larger story, little scenes in a larger story, and then we’ll merge them together in the end. But we’ll interlace them with each, and it kind of all comes together. That’s all that we do.”
However, just because the set is improvised does not necessarily mean a slight structure is not involved. Sometimes, improv groups like Sad Dads perform a montage inspired by a word from the audience with intermingling skits and scenes.
“This is called longform improv,” Kommor explained. “We try to make stories and make scenes with our minds.”
When it comes to his piano chops, Kommor says his challenge is playing a tune which corresponds to the mood of the scene unfolding in front of him. “
It usually sounds a little like a musical, and also a little like a silent film,” Kommor said. “I like to base it on moods, and if there’s something scary going on, I can manage a horror film score.”
One of the tournament’s best moments came courtesy of CIT Nationals Producer Jonathan Pitts. The Creator and Founder of the College Comedy Championship, Pitts gathered the members of Sad Dads into a little huddle apart from the other teams to tell them what every improv team dreams of hearing from an improv professional. “That’s when he told us that set earlier that that was the best one of the day,” Kommor said.
“He said that he was really impressed we were such a diverse group of people, but we didn’t make anything out of it. We had a very personal, prideful moment, and it was great.”
Written by Emilie Kefalas.