by Teagan Hughes
art by Priya Banerjee
[originally published May 9, 2022]
Our conversations in The Cat in the Cream overlapped, melding into a generally anticipatory murmur. Some patrons frantically rearranged chairs, while others packed onto the couches at the back of the room. The string lights on the north wall winked on and off in a variety of patterns, and the wonderful Cat staff sold these really good mule ear cookies (and I said so, to which my friends said: what on earth is a mule ear cookie?). On the stage: four solitary chairs, no mics. It could only mean one thing: the Oberlin College Improv Conference was back.
OCIC returned on April 29th, 2022 from a two-year hiatus. OCIC is an annual event facilitated by Oberlin’s improv troupes, Sunshine Scouts and Kid Business (and, not so long ago, dissolved troupes Primitive Streak and Neurotic Fiction), featuring performances from local, regional, and professional improv troupes. Like pretty much every campus tradition imaginable, OCIC was temporarily lost to the initial COVID-19 quarantine and, later, the challenge of planning events on a “de-densified” campus. Oberlin’s improv troupes revived the Conference this year and, last weekend, presented performances from a total of six troupes. Accompanying the performances were three open-to-the-public workshops, as well as Shit Pit, Oberlin’s student-run comedy open mic.
The first night of OCIC featured performances from three New York City-based improv troupes at The Cat in the Cream. The first of these troupes was Ladies Who Ranch, a five-person comedy collective from Brooklyn. Members Sophie Zucker and Maya Sharma are themselves Oberlin alumni, having founded Shit Pit in 2015. Ladies Who Ranch took audience suggestions for “a thought you had today,” before improvising a set that traveled from an interrogation room to the grocery store to a sewer exclusively populated by social outcasts—well, and rats.
Next came A Crazy Amazing Friendship, who put on a two-person performance featuring conversations between a tenured (“ten-yeared”) music professor, his star student, his wife, and a rogue hang glider.
Closing out the first night of OCIC was Chicken Big, a three-person improv troupe whose fast-paced set saw appearances from the Pope, the inventor of a new cell phone, and a guy with, like, a really long suitcase.
On Saturday, April 30th, all three NYC-based improv troupes held open workshops. A Crazy Amazing Friendship hosted “Do It 2 ‘Em: Duo Duals,” which focused on improvising two-person scenes—specifically, “world-building, character-motivated narratives, and reading your partner’s mind.” The concurrent workshop “Take Care of Yourself” was hosted by Ladies Who Ranch, who coached participants in “sticking to your instincts in order to make a more exciting scene.” Lastly, Chicken Big facilitated “The Art of the Deal,” in which participants “initiat[ed] scenes with strong physical and emotional choices.”
The evening of April 30th saw OCIC’s second show, this one featuring a slate of local performers. First up was Oberlin’s own Sunshine Scouts. The Scouts kicked off the show with scenes on marriage (or their own Scenes From a Marriage, if you will), fake therapists, and human declawing.
Following the Sunshine Scouts was Akron-based Point of No Return. Point of No Return improvised a narrative involving a failing marriage, a business in the red, and a sext-bot that earned equal parts laughter and dramatic gasps from the audience.
The concluding set of the second show came from Oberlin’s own Kid Business. Kid Business transported the audience from the Eiffel Tower to the forests of Maine (slogan: “Family, Business, Leisure”), all in a quest for love and revenge.
The last event of OCIC was Shit Pit, Oberlin’s only recurring comedy open mic. Saturday’s Shit Pit spotlighted a mix of current student performers as well as NYC comics from the aforementioned troupes, allowing the audience to hear a variety of comedic styles and voices.
Last weekend’s conference served as yet another emergence of the Oberlin College Comedy Scene (very serious, very stately) from the uncertainty of the initial COVID shutdown. OCIC, Shit Pit, and other student organizations and traditions represent the provision of resources and a creative outlet to emerging comics, and it’s scary to think that they were in jeopardy for so long. Though not every organization or tradition can return—there are several sketch and improv groups that, unfortunately, seem out for the count—every tradition that gets revived (or created!) provides students the opportunity to cultivate and share their creative voice, and provides the campus community the opportunity to see some really great performances.