by Will Li (’23) | March 21, 2022
The name “Shakespeare’s Dropouts” usually evokes imagery of literary fanatics huddled together, religiously dissecting texts from the Elizabethan period. But Saint Francis’s team could not be more different, attested first-year member Noah Crane (’23): “We’re just funny people who make funny shows. Someone thought I was into Shakespearean poetry, but if you saw my English grade, you’d know that’s not true. We’re like professional class clowns, just not professional.”
The troupe of eleven most recently hosted an evening show on March 18 in the Performing Arts Center. According to moderator Mr. Baron Cannon, they have also dabbled with ComedySportz, a worldwide competitive improvisation franchise, practicing for six hours on December 5 to familiarize themselves with competing.
Unlike members of other Lancer organizations, every entertainer on the team remains “on for life,” said Mr. Cannon.
The team “has to have a sense of community, this sense of continuity,” he explained. He also intends to invite past performers to a reunion show in 2024, the ten-year anniversary of the team’s founding.
Rayne Ryan (’22) also emphasized bonding, mentioning collective activities such as enjoying boba across the street from campus or grabbing dinner before evening shows. “Because it’s such a small team, it really allows us to build deeper connections with each other. We practice together a lot,” she said.
“A lot” would be correct — every Tuesday and Thursday for ninety minutes in Portable 12, as well as during some lunches, the performers rehearse through different genres of unpremeditated scenes lasting a few minutes each, termed “games.” Only a rough set of rules governs “how we act” within each game, according to Will Blackburn (’22). And while Tuesdays are reserved for the select eleven, Thursdays are open to all students, added Crane.
“We’ll practice games in rehearsals, of course, but each time there’ll be different characters and jokes,” explained three-year veteran Alexander Eiger (’23), whose favorite game, New Choice, entails three people performing a scene with Mr. Cannon sporadically yelling “New Choice.” After this cue, the immediately preceding speaker must change their last line or action and continue with a new scene.
Comedic prowess primarily requires self-confidence, said three-year performer Thomas Scharrenberg (’23). “You’re going to flub a line; you’re going to be caught flat-footed,” he explained. “But the best people are the ones who can take that and just roll with it and not apologize.” Two-year team member Max Allen (’23) also emphasized spontaneity and creativity, and Mr. Cannon underscored the rapport between comedians and audience members, such as the use of a callback — evoking laughter by referring to a previous joke the audience reveled in.
During shows, “we usually get a location or the name of a famous person or something like that [for a game] from the audience,” explained Blackburn.
“We actually bring on audience members,” added Crane. “It’s funny to watch them figure out what to do live on stage.”
Show admission is free with one caveat: everyone is strongly encouraged to bring something, with little specificity on what that thing is, said first-year Ashley Larson (’25). Previous “tickets” have included a car tire, a can of whipped cream, five cents, a ball of lint, and a “Rickroll” QR code on paper, added Crane.
This year, the team hosted shows on October 26, November 30, and February 8. But the year-and-a-half of quarantine proved dramatically different. “Improv doesn’t translate well to a Zoom call, so quarantine killed things for eight months,” explained Scharrenberg. Only after the campus reopened spring 2021 was the troupe able to perform in-person again at the Cirque du Saint Francis.
Despite its challenges, the team generated quite the turnout at auditions in September, with thirty prospective performers vying for three spots. With such intense competition, acceptance onto the tightly-knit team is highly prestigious. “I was freaking out; it was the best feeling in the world,” recalled Eiger, one of three chosen from twenty-five contenders in 2019.
Once on the team, one can anticipate not only the practices, shows, and games, but also the close-knit community. The other performers “are like my siblings,” said two-year member Niva Shirsekar (’24). “I’m an only child, and improv is like my second family.”