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The art of bringing (happy) tears to people’s eyes

Rubén PEREDA

We seep into the Prince Claus Conservatoire and, picking up the scent of loads of laughs, we find the room we were looking for. There they are, some of the members of Stranger Things Have Happened, arguably the most popular improvisation group in the city of Groningen, throwing words at each other and dancing in what it seems to be a warm-up for their rehearsal.

One of the artists, improvising during the rehearsal.

Set up some nine years ago, the group embraces twelve artists with very different backgrounds: from theatre actors to pure comedians, without letting aside writers or musicians. What is it, then, that links them together? Their devotion for improvisation and the passion they pour into every single line. After many rehearsals like the one we are now witnessing and hundreds of live shows, they have managed to develop a unique formula, which assures them that many students will show up week after week to watch them.

But there is no room for relaxation. The warm-up completed, they move on to different exercises. Although every one of these may seem unconnected to the others, the goal is always the same: to keep their instincts awake, for they never know when it will be a great moment to crack the perfect joke. Chandler Bullock, one of the regulars in the show, confesses that this is one of the things he likes most about improvisation: “I don’t have to prepare any material and I still have the feeling that you can go onstage and something amazing is going to happen, although you don’t know what yet”.

Friendship reigns in the atmosphere. However, they will not hesitate to point out the weaknesses of the show when necessary.

The rehearsal goes on, among jokes and laughs, with the sensation that they could be there for weeks before running out of inspiration. “There is a little bit of a talent for performance and it is necessary to spark it”, claims Bullock. “In the end, however, it has a lot to do with one’s personality”.After some more minutes of training, the alarm of a clock goes off – it’s time for a break, which everyone uses to express their opinion about what they have rehearsed so far. In spite of the fact that each of them is good on their own and knows what they can do to improve, it is only when they gather that the best comes out. Since it is easy to see the mote in one’s brother’s eye, they provide each other with some valuable feedback. The same happens onstage, where union also means strength: “Every time someone surprises you, that will improve your improvisation”, explains Naomi de Ruiter, another member. And this is undoubtedly the motto the group relies on: together is better.

Exhausted after more than two hours, dark outside, they decide to bring the rehearsal to an end. Everything can always be improved, but, given the nature of their acting, some things must be definitely left to improvisation. So they switch off the lights and leave the conservatorium, hoping that tomorrow’s show will bring a smile to everybody’s faces. Even to the ones of the most serious people. After all, you know what they say: stranger things have happened.