The Student News Site of Northern Michigan University

The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Abigail Faix
Abigail Faix
Features Editor

My name is Abby, I am a fourth-year student at Northern. I am studying Multimedia Journalism with a minor in Political Science. I've always been passionate about journalism since I was in high school....

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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Laughs hit the ‘Spot’

A couple of NMU students are on stage pretending to be pirates in a mini-van looking for booty to plunder. The scene is filled with “yarghs” and “arghs,” until they realize they forgot change for the meter. They break from the pirate talk to discuss the situation and then a horn sounds, directions are called and two more NMU students come to the front of the stage.

This is just part of the game Four Square that the NMU improv group, On the Spot plays during their practices and shows.

The group uses games as an outline for a show, but they never know the content until they get onstage. The audience drives the show by giving situations and locations for each game. Social studies secondary education major Tim Marker said it really keeps them on their toes.

“(The audience) gives us ideas and we pick up the ball and run with it,” Marker said.

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While On the Spot is not the first improv group NMU has had, it’s certainly had the most longevity, having been around for eight years. Senior biology major and co-producer of On the Spot, Beau Niec, says it’s because of one real difference.

“There’s no audition to be a member,” Niec said, adding that it gives the group diversity. Members include students ranging from freshmen to seniors with a variety of different majors and backgrounds.

Even though auditions are not held, the new members aren’t simply thrown on stage and expected to perform. Junior outdoor recreation major and co-producer Kevin O’Keefe said there’s a three week assimilation process and unofficial mentoring by more experienced members. The first week they just talk about improv, the second week they start to bring them into the games and by the third week they’re official members.

This process is important to make the games work. There are rules the cast members must follow, with the main one being that everyone must stay in character. This is one of the things that Marker likes about performing with On the Spot.

“The mental aspect is what makes it hard,” he said. “You have to think on your feet.”

For him this includes getting up in front of a crowd and making a fool of himself while sticking to the rules and staying in character.

This is why he likes the game Sit, Stand, Lean. One person always has to stand, one always leans and one always sits. The challenge is that they have to periodically switch. If one person suddenly stands up, one of the other two have to take that person’s former position while staying in character. Marker said the mental and physical challenges make the game fun for him.

The group is now using the Internet to help improve their shows. Bryant Varney, the instructional media services supervisor at NMU and promoter for On the Spot, helps the group by taping their practices and putting them on Youtube.

“Now their families can see how talented the group is,” Varney said.

The other advantage is getting the group’s best work out to an audience. Since the crowd can offer suggestions as to what each game will be about, no two shows are exactly alike.

“There’s times when you get games during practice that we wished we could have put in a show,” said Niec.

With Youtube, all their best games can have an audience.

On the Spot isn’t just about fun and games, though. Niec said that while it’s just a hobby for some, it’s a career for others, and former member Jeremy Brown is proof of that. He said Brown now gets paid to do improv with Seattle City Improv and someday wants to be part of the SNL cast.

What they learn on the stage can be useful in their everyday lives, said Marker. It gets people used to being out of their bubble and in potentially awkward situations, even for those who don’t aspire for a career in improv, Marker said.

“It gives you confidence working with yourself and with other people,” he said.

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