This past Thursday and Friday, Nov. 16 and 17, the Burlingame Improv Theatre Enthusiasts (BITE) held a two-day show. On Thursday, there were two teams made up exclusively of Burlingame students who competed against each other with set improvisational games they planned to play. On Friday, BITE mixed with teams from San Mateo, Aragon and Hillsdale to create three teams.
“The coaches looked at the different rosters that were playing, and we wanted a representative from each school as well as a variety of different improv styles for each team,” said Jared Abbott, BITE’s coach.
The three teams, Spicy, Steamy and Saucy, played in a competition format called “gorilla,” aptly named because well-received scenes were rewarded with a banana while unsuccessful scenes received punishments for their directors to perform. The directors’ roles were to give their scenes a prompt and occasionally guide the actors along with suggestions for what to do next. Ultimately, team Steamy won the competition. While improv is all about acting and inventing on the spot, it is still possible to prepare for shows, and this is why the club meets twice a week.
“To practice, you can do scene starts, so you do character, relationship, objective and where (CROW) and get in the habit of establishing that early on,” said Viva Freedman, co-president of the club along with fellow senior Lola McManus. “You also learn space-object work and how to create an environment that is believable without using any props. You can do character work and create a repertoire of different characters. For a show like we did on Thursday, we learn games.”
During BITE’s Friday lunch meetings, anyone can come and join. Freedman said that the club will hopefully start hosting weekly Friday lunch shows in December. After the success that was last week’s show, Freedman expects that BITE will continue to grow and thrive. The team has come a long way since Freedman joined and since Abbott, who is also a special education teacher at Burlingame, first began coaching the team. Abbott was previously a member of the Aragon improv team, participated in improv all four years of college and occasionally still performs in San Francisco.
“When I started teaching here three years ago, a conversation I had with the drama teacher Ms. Skelton let me know that there was a group of kids on campus who were interested in starting an improv team,” Abbott said. “I can see the confidence growing in all of the improvisers. They just listen to each other a lot more. They’ve become much better improvisers since I’ve started working with them.”
At the beginning of the school year, BITE held two-day auditions to allow new member into the club. Abbott said this was to see the auditionees’ improv styles and how they would work with the rest of the members. BITE has 12 members this year.
“It is a really nice break especially from school, but also from traditional theatre,” said Freedman. “Improv gives you total freedom, so that was a huge draw for me.”
Freedman’s favorite part of Friday’s show was a scene in which she sang a love song with Rithik Booreddy, a teammate from Aragon. Even though Freedman’s team, Spicy, did not win, she enjoyed herself greatly last week. BITE plans to hold a show with another school this coming February, and Freedman hopes Burlingame students will come and see what improv is really like.
“I think that people don’t always know that there are different kinds of improv,” Abbott said. “They might only think of it as the Whose Line Is It Anyway? style, so coming to lunch shows and checking out what BITE does would give students a bigger glimpse of what improv really is and the different styles that are out there.”