Gina Ender | Contributing Writer
Improvisational comedy has been tied to university campuses for decades, beginning with the Compass Players who first formed at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. The on-the-spot acting style became a national interest in the 1970s at the dawn of Saturday Night Live in New York.
Branches of improv eventually made their way to Los Angeles, including groups such as Improv Olympic, Second City, ComedySportz and Upright Citizens Brigade, which inspired LA’s Groundlings. Improvisational troupes have been tied to collegiate humor since its beginning, normalizing the startup of these groups for aspiring actors and comedians.
At the end of her freshman year, Kristina Meyering filled out the paperwork to fulfill her dream of starting an improvisation club on campus, inspired by the ones she had seen nationally. Too nervous to start it then, the now junior acting major waited a whole year before holding auditions or planning performances, kickstarting the organization of the group in spring 2015.
APU’s ZuKeepers premiered with 15 members at the beginning of November to an audience of about 140 people. The group is comprised of students ranging from improvisation novices to some with years of training. Meyering has a ComedySportz background herself.
“There were lots of inside jokes that I think APU people would really appreciate. Our group as a whole is so clever. Every time they say things, it blows my mind. They’re all so good at working as a team and supporting each other,” captain and founder Meyering said.
The show featured many Azusa Pacific-specific jokes, including references to the Alpha program, dining hall food, DTRs in the rose garden and campus pastor Woody Morwood. Meyering said her favorite part of the first show was the audience’s response at the end of the performance. She said several people approached her and asked how they could get involved with the group.
“I hope it will continue on and it will be a place people want to go to and something people can go to blow off steam and just laugh,” Meyering said. “I hope [the audiences] leave with stomach aches because they’ve been laughing so hard.”
The troupe is mostly comprised of theater majors, but also includes a business major and a political science major. Meyering said she hopes to expand to students of even more diverse majors in the future. She said the best compliment she has received about ZuKeepers thus far is that their performance “felt like college.” Tying the troupe back to its improvisational roots on college campuses, she said one of their greatest strengths is their APU related content.
Meyering said as of now, improvisation is a hobby, but she would love to do it professionally if the opportunity arose. She also said she believes all of the members of the group would succeed at improv post-graduation as well, a sentiment shared by ZuKeepers mentor and acting professor Dr. Monica Ganas.
Ganas believes the group represents the theater department well and contributes to life on campus. She has seen many of the members perform successfully in a classroom setting and thinks they are inventive, daring, artistic and hilarious in the context of improvisation. She believes improv on college campuses contributes to more intelligent humor.
“When you see good improvisation, there is something kind of thrilling in that you’re seeing actors out on a tightrope without a script,” Ganas said. “There’s a great deal of delight in watching that succeed. All of life is improvisational. At the end of the day, we believe that all of life is connected somehow on a spiritual level.”
Ganas said she hopes the troupe creates leaders on campus and the members become influential in the improv field. She said the current group is very collaborative and works well together as a team. ZuKeeper’s close dynamic is influenced by their relationship before the group started, as many of the members describe themselves as best friends and consider the others to have become close friends after joining the troupe.
Senior acting major Michael Donnell claims he has grown as a performer since joining ZuKeepers because of all of the practice the troupe does. He said the group loves comedy and making people laugh, and their ultimate goal is to entertain the audience while serving one another. He hopes to inspire others to do improvisation while making memories with the group members.
“What’s great about doing improv is you can create something beautiful on stage—it’s hilarious and amazing and then it’s over. It lives and it dies all in that moment,” Donnell said.
Sophomore acting and humanities major Sara Lindsey said joining the group has helped her learn to rely on other people. She said there is a deep level of trust and love within the troupe, as improvisation is an ensemble work. Lindsey said the group depends on one another for support, especially in moments when an improv skit does not go as planned. She fell down on stage at one point in the group’s first performance, but was reassured by her teammates, who turned the candid moment into an opportunity for vulnerability and laughter.
“[Improv] keeps your mind sharp and it keeps you in your body because it’s so active. It’s an easy and somewhat low stress way to bring a lot of joy to a lot of people,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey sees the group growing and becoming more cohesive, creative, funny and imaginative. She said being part of a group is great because the more people there are, the more ideas there are. As a member of the first troupe, she said she is excited to set the standard for the future of ZuKeepers.
“There’s a sense of us starting something new that hasn’t been seen at this school before. It’s really exciting to be setting that precedent and be so close and know that we’re doing something great,” Lindsey said.
The ZuKeepers intend to perform every month from now on. They are currently planning a Christmas-themed show for December and will be at Midnight Breakfast at the end of the semester.