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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Evolve your sense of humor with Darwin


    Courtesy of Brooke Hartnett
    Members of the Charles Darwin Experience, an improvisation comedy group at the UA, pose inside the Student Union Memorial Center. The improv group will hold auditions for new members on Wednesday.

    “Forget all your worries and cares and just laugh for 60 minutes.”

    This is how Brooke Hartnett, administrative director of the Charles Darwin Experience, describes the club’s weekly improvisational comedy shows.

    The Charles Darwin Experience is a comedy improv troupe at the UA that puts on weekly one-hour shows every Tuesday evening. Since being founded about 16 years ago, the troupe has come a long way. It placed first at the College Improv Tournament for the Golden Gate Regional on Saturday. It will be going to Chicago for the national championships this March.

    The troupe owes its success to the passion and hard work of its members, a diverse group of students majoring in everything from psychology to theatre studies to biochemical engineering. In addition to being a creative writing senior, Hartnett leads extensive practices. 

    “We practice together at least four hours a week, plus performance time and any other outside performances we are hired for,” Hartnett said. However, the long hours are far from tedious. “I think it’s something everyone in the troupe loves doing, so it doesn’t really feel like a time commitment. It just feels like a really big part of your life.”

    The Darwin Experience members put in long hours for a simple reason. 

    “I just kind of fell in love with it,” Hartnett said.

    Bryce Villalpando, the co-artistic director for the Darwin Experience and a creative writing senior, described the troupe as “a home away from home.”

    “We … all enjoy each other, which is good because we spend so much time together,” Villalpando said. “Making people laugh every week is just awesome. It’s the best feeling in the world to make other people happy, which is really cheesy but it’s true.”

    The Charles Darwin Experience is completely unique not only in its members but also in the style of comedy it uses. 

    “Darwin does Short Form Improv, which actually isn’t that prevalent in the comedy community anymore or even in the college improv community,” Hartnett said. 

    This type of comedy showcases short and funny games that are created on the spot, drawing heavily from audience participation. It differs from more common improv, which is usually an improvised extended scene or play. One of the key factors that makes Darwin’s style of comedy so enticing is the audience it is appealing to.

    “We pride ourselves on playing to the height of our and the audience’s intelligence,” Hartnett said. “We are engaging them directly in a way everyone enjoys.”

    Although it may seem that the onstage performance is easy and natural, improvisational comedy is actually a finely tuned skill. 

    “Improv can look like there is no craft behind it if you are doing it right,” Hartnett said. “There are so many secret behind-the-scenes techniques that make good improv good. One of these is the idea of ‘Yes, And.’ When doing a scene, you always want to agree with and add on to whatever your partner is saying. You are in a made-up universe with made-up people, so you cannot negate what you partner is saying, because that is hurtful to the scene. You also cannot just accept it either, because then your partner would be doing all the work.”

    The Darwinians take their comedy seriously, often going to classes and festivals around the country to learn new techniques to share with their peers. Villalpando has even taken classes at Second City in Chicago, a premier comedy community that has trained stars like Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

    The Darwin Experience is not just a fun college experience. The skills its members learn can be implemented far away from the stage.

    “It’s definitely something I keep on my resume,” said Dana Dobbins, a Darwin alumna who now attends law school. “It’s a conversation starter in all my interviews.” 

    Dobbins said the skills she picked up in the troupe have augmented her interviewing ability significantly.

    Villalpando and Hartnett, both planning to pursue comedy after college, agree with Dobbins’ sentiment.

    “I feel really prepared going into comedy in [Los Angeles],” Villalpando said. “The ability to perform weekly and think on my toes has really helped me go further in comedy.”

    The troupe is also looking to pick up some more members. It is holding auditions Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Complex, Room 266. Everyone is encouraged to audition — no experience is necessary. Hartnett says her ideal candidate is just someone who is having fun on stage and engaging with their peers.

    “It has made my college experience,” Villalpando said. “I could have been uninvolved in everything else and just doing Darwin would have made my college experience wonderful. People should audition even if they are scared to. Just take a risk because it will be awesome.”

    The Charles Darwin Experience performs every Tuesday evening in the Gallagher Theater at 10 p.m. Shows are free to all.


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