Community of Improv Performers Grows Tighter

Vida Weisblum, Arts Editor

Despite rumors of past rivalry between freeform improvisational comedy troupe Primitive Streak and shortform troupe Kid Business, Oberlin’s improv community appears to be tighter than ever. Members of the troupes filled the majority of seats at other’s shows this weekend, marking a transition to an even warmer relationship among its members.

This weekend alone was a busy one for the trifecta of comedy groups on campus, with improv shows ushering in eager crowds on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. After shortform troupe Kid Business opened the weekend’s program of events on Friday, longform troupe Sunshine Scouts and freeform troupe Primitive Streak held shows on Saturday and Sunday evenings, respectively.

College junior and Kid Business member James Koblenzer claims that the trend of improv members attending other troupes’ shows is “brand new.” “Primitive Streak was traditionally our enemy,” said Koblenzer, who joined Obehave, now known as Kid Business, during his first year.  College sophomore Jesse Arnholz, who joined Sunshine Scouts during the fall of her first year, had only positive comments about her experience. “It’s like having a built-in crew of people who’ll love you and have your back no matter what,” she said. “We really trust and respect each other, and those two facets can be hard to come by. If I didn’t have Scouts then I don’t know what I’d do.”

According to College first-year and Primitive Streak member Josh Blankfield, who joined the group at the start of the semester, said that Streak practices six hours a week. “Rehearsal is a phenomenal thing,” he said. “Being able to improvise is a muscle that needs to be attended to constantly. Being in a troupe that meets so frequently is really great at strengthening this muscle.”

This high level of commitment coupled with an intimidatingly low number of cast openings can be off-putting to the slew of first-years and sophomores who audition.“We’re seen as sort of cliquey, for cool kids or nerds only — however you want to see it,” Koblenzer said.

Koblenzer spoke to the more problematic aspects the Oberlin improv community has struggled with in previous years, namely its exclusivity and lack of diversity. “The beginning of my sophomore year I made a joke that we would become the first all-white, male improv troupe,” Koblenzer said. “But of course that’s not a joke, it’s reality, because at the time there were five members, all of whom were white men.”

Although the extent homogeneity within the troupes a few years ago is unclear, the presence of multiple women, and LGBT and POC members marks a significant shift forward in increasing diversity within Oberlin’s improv community. Koblenzer noted the importance of moving away from the image of a homogenous campus improv community. “[Lacking diversity within the Oberlin improv community] leads to comedy that’s out of touch with reality,” Koblenzer said, “If anything, that’s worse than offending people. I really think that’s unforgivable, but that’s my opinion.”

Despite his qualms, he does relish the positive aspects of belonging to such a small community and envisions its members taking positive steps forward in the near future. “When I was a freshman, it was really gross,” Koblenzer said. “It was clubby, it was atomized — by that I mean it was separated into troupes and there was not any communication … and that, I’m glad to say, is dying out.”


This article has been updated from an earlier version.