The lesson of the night at Gonzaga University Theater Sports (GUTS) practice was objective. What is the goal? What is the game? And what is The Game? This means what is the performer(s) personal goal of the game, what are the technical aspects of the game and how do you make people laugh during the game, respectively.
Even though the improvisers of GUTS cannot perform in front of the Gonzaga community this year they can still practice. And the objective of these practices are to seize the opportunity to perfect their comedy and come together as community.
“You would think ‘Oh, no shows there’s no point,’” said Dillon Shipley, GUTS sergeant-at-arms. “But, what a lot of people don’t realize is that improv is a skill. You get better the more you do it. So, to put a whole positive spin on what’s happening right now is that we get to improve so much because we’re not distracted by shows.”
During practice they are able to give criticism after games and work on the fundamentals of improv Shipley said.
“That’s a really positive thing for me,” Shipley said. “Especially last semester with new people and people just getting into improv I can look at them and say ‘Oh damn you’re funny.’ It’s a really nice thing to see.”
However, there have been challenges. Due to COVID-19 guidelines the members of GUTS have had to adapt or drop games.
“It limits a lot of the games that we play,” said Dominic Agudelo, the treasure of GUTS. “Like the game Hands Through. Basically you have to do an improv scene, but someone will stand behind you and do your hand movements for you. It’s a fun gag but a lot of our list of games we had to cut from our practices because they are not safe.”
The face mask requirement has proved to be an interesting challenge since facial expressions make up a big part of comedy.
“Facial expressions are something I worried about,” Agudelo said. “Maybe that sounds small but it can add so much to how your physicality and your character goes. One of the things that’s so heartening about this is that despite that it has changed so many games and we have to wear masks all the time, in spite of that we still have a great time.”
This semester the group has been able to move back into their old stomping grounds: the Jundt Auditorium, after practicing outside and in College Hall.
One night when they were practicing in College Hall Thayne McCulloh, president of GU, popped in to see what they were up to.
“Thayne’s office is on that floor and it’s not our usual practice space so I’m sure he heard a bunch of teens rowdily yelling and shouting and he came in to make sure no one was dying," said Evelyn Elston, the social chairperson of GUTS. "I guess we’re not teens. It was really funny, and he posted about it on Twitter. So, even when we’re not having shows it was fun to get that moment of recognition.”
One constant throughout the history of GUTS has been the bond between the performers. Many of them citing the group as a family to them.
“I really want to speak to how incredible the community has been,” Elston said. “At least in my experience I’ve always felt very welcomed by everyone in GUTS and that’s what keeps me coming back, that’s why I wanted to be on council. It’s great that we all do improv together but we’re also a community who genuinely cares for each other and wants to keep each other healthy and wants to see each other every week.”
Along with great comedic timing the life lessons learned and the friendships made are why members of GUTS love it so much.
“Not only is GUTS one of my primary forms of entertainment during the pandemic and also just a break from constant Zoom classes and homework," said Scott Sunseri, a sophomore and member of GUTS. "It’s also really helped me develop as an individual in ways I never thought improv would," "I’ve really noticed that my communication skills with other people have improved."
“Watching other people is a really good learning experience for what I can do better and hearing the criticism about what I did well and can do better next time is a really great experience not only to learn how to be funnier it has real world applications that have really helped me in my life,” Sunseri said.
GUTS welcomes anyone who is interested to join their practices not just to perform but to watch as well.
“Our practices are open for a reason,” Elston said. “Maybe someone wants to come watch a couple practices before they start participating or maybe we have three guys in the back who come every single practice and don’t play but they’re still a part of our community. We’re still friends with them, we still value them.”
While everyone is welcome, what is not welcome is outside troubles especially when it comes to the pandemic.
“It feels like an unspoken thing to me because a lot of our scenes in nature are so fantastic and absurd by themselves that there isn’t a need to joke about something like [COVID-19],” Agudelo said. “I guess in a weird way it makes us feel normal for the small time that we are here.”
For 90 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 p.m. the members of GUTS and anyone who would like to check out improv gathers to practice their comedy and laugh with their community.
“Not to hype us up or anything but when we are able to do shows again these guys are so funny it’s going to blow everyone on campus away," Elston said. "Everybody has improved so much. I’ve seen so much improvement by people in this group and I gotta say if anyone is thinking about joining GUTS the pandemic is a great time to learn how to get funny because as soon as everybody gets back all of the sudden you’re super funny.”