When COVID-19 hit, student groups across the University of Maryland community were forced to find creative ways to bring their organization into the online environment. But perhaps it makes sense for Erasable Inc., the university’s only all-improvised performance group, to be flexible with its work.
Last semester, the group put on weekly shows in-person on the steps in front of McKeldin Library, like they would in a typical school year. Each performer wore a mask and audience members remained six feet apart from each other, freshman animal sciences and English major Lesley Porterfield said.
This semester, members of the group double-masked both at rehearsals and at its one and only show Feb. 12 before the university announced it was restricting student gatherings to no more than five people indoors and outside.
And now that the university has also instructed students to “sequester-in-place” at least through Saturday, the group has moved its rehearsals to Zoom, sophomore Grant Yang said.
“It’s a lot harder to play improv games that we would in real life just because they don’t translate well,” the biological sciences major said.
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But there are some that work. One is called “Expert Panel,” Porterfield explained. In this game, one person claims to be an expert on a topic without knowing what the topic is, and the rest of the group asks questions, forcing the person to think on their feet, she said.
“It’s nice because you can still do character work within it,” she added. “You can take on different accents or different meters of speaking or ways of holding yourself, but it doesn’t require the physicality that a lot of other interactions do.”
Another is a modified PowerPoint night, where members of Erasable Inc. create PowerPoints for each other to present without knowing the topic beforehand, said sophomore architecture major Stephen Duranske.
Looking ahead, the group plans to put on a virtual performance for the Chelsea School in Hyattsville, Porterfield said. Because Erasable Inc. is still working through the logistics of virtual improv, they plan to put on a variety show.
“We’re a very diverse group,” Porterfield said. “We have people that write sketch comedy and people that do music and some people that do stand-up comedy and some people that are just great performers.”
But in the meantime, the group is in a limbo state while awaiting further information from the university, senior Sammy Garcia said.
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“Safety is our No. 1 priority right now,” the supply chain management major said. “We’re learning, and we’re diving into what Inc. can do virtually, and it’s definitely going to be something that’s not typical of a normal Inc. show, but that’s what we’re thinking on, just to keep our creative flow going.”
Although members of Erasable Inc. don’t know what’s coming next, they plan to keep rehearsing every week — in-person if university guidelines allow, online if not.
“We all agreed that if we completely stop … it’s going to be a lot harder to get going when we are able to start again,” Duranske said. “We’re definitely looking to do some digital shows in the future if that’s what we have to do.”