Spark Plug jump-starts Fools’ Day

Jess Vogt

Flying peaches, ’60s protest songs, and a choreographed Spice Girls dance were just a few of the delights found in the alumni improvisation show, Spark Plug, on April Fools’ Day.
Alumni Zach Johnson ’06, Kate Nelson ’06, Brad Berhmann ’04, and Jacob Allen ’04 returned to campus to provide an afternoon of random awkwardness and uncomfortable silences. And, of course, lots of laughs.
Johnson, a theater and music major during his time at Lawrence, first started working on the Spark Plug show last fall, when he and Kate Nelson entered into dialogue about how cool it would be to come back and do improv together.
They discussed the idea of putting together a show that would be different from their old Lawrence University Improv Troupe, but still rooted in their love for theater and improvisation.
Johnson’s personal love of improv stems from a full-length main stage improv show at Lawrence that he took part in during his sophomore year.
He enjoyed the experience so much that he talked to a number of other students who were also involved in improv and, without holding a single audition, started LUIT in 2002.
Along with Johnson and Nelson, Allen and Berhmann are also original members of LUIT. When contacted about the possibility of an alumni improv show, both readily agreed.
“We all just love improv!” Johnson said enthusiastically.
Although the four stayed in touch after leaving Lawrence, Johnson, Nelson and Allen hadn’t worked with Berhmann in years, making them anxious and excited.
They practiced as often as they could before the show, bouncing ideas off each other constantly.
The opening of the show was one such idea. “We thought, ‘We have to do something unexpected because it’s April Fools’ Day,'” said Johnson. “We wanted a more interesting way to start the show than LUIT normally does ? something to get people thinking before the show and get people out of their comfort zone.”
The opening consisted of random scenes and dialogue by Johnson, Berhmann and Allen alternating with a moaning and apparently deranged Nelson rocking in a chair.
It indeed got people out of their comfort zone. Nervous laughter punctuated the awkward and uncomfortable silences of an opening that seemed to last way too long.
“We actually had people come up to us after the show and say they hated it,” said Johnson. But improv has a broader context than just audience appeal, according to Johnson.
“I think there’s a lot to be learned from improv for everyone ? musicians, theater people, anyone. There’s more to improv comedy than a lot of people think there is,” he added, “and I certainly hope we taught the younger members [of LUIT] something.”
Johnson adds that improv is the best training an actor can get, because it teaches spontaneity and how to deal with unexpected situations in front of an audience.
All four members of Spark Plug were music or theater majors and their experiences with improv and LUIT have prepared them well for their fields.
Currently, Johnson, Nelson and Berhmann all teach middle school music and it is easy to imagine that their experience with improv comedy comes in handy as they stand up every day before adolescents.
But other than the improvisation of day-to-day living, the four alumni will have to wait until next year to work together again.
“I would love to turn this into an annual thing,” said Johnson.

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