Luxy Banner ’18 stands in the middle of a circle, surrounded by students waiting for her to challenge them in a verbal race of “bippity boppity boo.” Banner slowly walks by each student and catches one off guard, shouting boo before he can. Students erupt into laughter, while Banner and her opponent switch places, and the warm-up activity starts over.

Laughter and games are a big part of how members learn improv in Box of Chocolates, a student organization formed last year after Banner and Kate Axelsson ’18 met in a speech class. The friends share a love of sketch comedy, and they wanted an on-campus outlet where they and other students could be funny together. The fledgling group has about 30 members who meet weekly to practice in a classroom, or wherever they can find an open space.

Axelsson learned improv at her Holy Cross high school in Maryland and spent a month with The Second City, an improvisational theater troupe in Chicago, during the summer. Banner picked up improv at her Austin high school through games and acting classes. Both guide Box of Chocolates using the improv approach of “yes, and,” which encourages participants to continue and build on scenes. The premise behind “yes, and” is that it helps scene partners accept each other’s ideas. “A person’s first instinct is to say ‘no’ because it’s an easy defense,” Axelsson says. “When you agree to a reality someone has established and get comfortable with being ridiculous, you can’t make a mistake.”

Embracing a “yes, and” mentality has taught Axelsson to try new things, be a better listener and be more spontaneous — all skills she has used in her Communication major and a semester studying abroad in Angers, France. “If I get off track in presentations, I can fall back on my improv skills to get back on point,” Axelsson says. “I’ve learned to trust my ability to converse and be relatable.”

Being able to goof around with a group is what drew Val Vial ’19 to join Box of Chocolates his freshman year. A self-described theatre kid, Vial discovered improv when he was in middle school and performed on and off. “Improv helps me think on the spot, and I’ve become good at it,” Viall says. “What I love about it is the friendly environment. People think you have to be funny, but you don’t. Anyone can join and they’ll have fun.”

Banner, who is an Acting major, says improv has made her a better performer who thinks faster, commits to her acting choices and is less self-conscious. When new members join Box of Chocolates for rehearsal, Banner gives them advice to overcome their nervousness: “Don’t think about being funny; we’re all a team; and commit to ‘yes, and,’” she says. “For one hour they can do the stupidest things and no one will judge. It’s magical to watch.”

By Erica Quiroz
Photography by Morgan Printy