By Jessica Hergert
Late on Monday nights, when the Lawrenceville campus is relatively quiet, the basement of Gil Chapel is echoing with the sounds of voices and laughter.
In a seemingly abandoned music room, complete with a piano and various hymn books, a group of students is fighting for custody of their beloved rabbit, picking magic mushrooms in the forest and auditioning for “Magic Mike 3,” the PG version.
Welcome to the world of comedic improvisation, or improv.
The Rider Improvised Organizational Troupe (RIOT) is a club unlike any other on campus, allowing students to participate in improv, hone their skills and demonstrate their creativity.
“There is something very freeing about figuring out how to express yourself without having to stick to a [staged production],” said senior communication studies and RIOT President Chris Garino.
“[Improv] allows people to express themselves instantaneously,” stated senior psychology major Ashley Leeds, who acts as co-acting supervisor chair with sophomore digital media major Jared Theinert.
In a typical hour-and-a-half meeting, members take turns playing classic improv games like Scenes from a Hat, Press Conference and Party Quirks, a group favorite.
“We tend to not keep to a structure, but we have games that people prefer to play,” explained graduate student Matt Hunt, vice president of RIOT. “It makes it more comfortable for [members] to participate.”
Founded in 2014, RIOT, originally called Ri-Diculous, has experienced ups and downs over the past four years, with membership sometimes being as high as 30 people.
Today, the club hovers around 15 members including the five-person executive board.
Through the year, Garino says RIOT tries to “book gigs wherever we can get them.”
Last year, the group performed at the Convoy Comedy Show, a free, on-campus event where all donations are given to the Rider Veterans Fund.
RIOT is excited to be returning to the stage for this semester’s Operation Comedy show and hope they can also incorporate a performance at the annual spring art festival, Art Beast.
The energetic spirit of RIOT is unique, since their focus is inclusion.
“I feel like it is fun to just let go of any restrictions you have,” said Theinert. “Anything goes, no matter the content. It’s a very accepting place; we are all just a bunch of goofballs trying to have a good time and make people laugh.”
Although the group is constantly howling, they are working hard toward improving their sketches.
“If you just start off and you have no idea what you’re doing, there are [exercises] that you can use to hone your skills and become a better performer over time,” Garino explained. “You adapt to the dynamics. Even though improv is off the top of your head, there’s a rhythm to it and a method to it.”
Feedback is a useful tool the club utilizes after every game. As a group, they work on improving common mistakes such as turning one’s back to the audience.
“It’s a real teachable place,” said senior digital media major and RIOT’s secretary Jared Gollin. “You learn a lot about what you can do.”
The group also just started videotaping performances with the help of junior environmental science major Leah Thomas who said she did not want to perform, but liked watching. Videotaping allows her to participate while giving members the ability to learn from their scenes.
The executive board reflected on the near absence of theater majors this semester. In the past, RIOT had a mix of theater majors and non-theater majors, a balance that seemed to benefit everybody.
“There were great theater majors who would bounce off of people who have never acted a day in their lives,” explained Garino. “Because of that training and experience, they were able to work with someone who is less experienced and leave them with a lasting impression.”
Learning is a big part of RIOT’s goal; however, potential members can expect to grow more as a person than as an actor.
“It’s also helped me in my day-to-day life,” said freshman digital media major Brett Gold. “I’m able to start thinking off the top of my head and it helps me think faster during tests and think more creatively.”
Hunt, who joined the club on a dare, said, “I think it’s very beneficial for people who have low self-esteem. It is really good for building confidence.”
“We don’t force people to participate,” he continued. “[It is] a really positive experience in an environment where there is just constant stress. This [is] just a good way to stay in one piece.”
Theinert, echoing the opinion of the executive board, summed up RIOT simply: “You don’t have to be good at anything to be good in this club. You have to be human. If you enjoy people being weird, people being themselves, it’s an awesome opportunity to just let go.”
The members of RIOT have a passion for the craft, but more so, a passion for people and creating an environment where everybody feels welcome.
“We have something real here, and something you can’t get anywhere else,” Garino closed by saying. “It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s good, it’s bad, it’s life, it’s improv.”
RIOT meets Monday nights from 9-10:30 p.m. in Wismer Room located in the basement of Gil Chapel. Operation Comedy takes place April 20 at 7:00 p.m. in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater. To learn more, follow RIOT on Facebook or on Instagram @riderimprov.
Published in the 2/28/18 edition.