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Sea Tea Improv Troupe Demonstrates What Happens When You Go Unscripted

The Gunnery welcomed four members of the Hartford-based Sea Tea Improv Touring Company on January 4 as part of the school’s ongoing Speaker Series. Students got into the act by volunteering suggestions and participating in a series of comedic sketches that were presented during an all-school event in the Ogden D. Miller Memorial Athletic Center that evening.
 
“It’s totally unplanned. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said actor and writer Julia Pistell, who doubles as Sea Tea’s Manager of Community Relations, as she introduced the first sketch. It centered on a rolling argument about “pointless stuff,” such as the question, “Is water wet?”

Pistell was joined by comedian and theatre artist Casey Grambo, a graduate of the long form improv program at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City; Lacey Byrne, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut, Torrington, and improviser Ann Crimmins, who is also a copy editor for the New York Review of Science Fiction.

In another sketch, students volunteered to play puppeteers, who manipulated the movements of the performers as they prepared to go skydiving. This was followed by a party scene where Grambo, the uninformed host, had to guess the identity of famous “guests,” including Al Gore, Huck Finn, Superman-turning-into-Spiderman and a pair of AirPods in their case. The final sketch was set in space and required the performers to incorporate a series of random suggestions (which they literally plucked from Post-it® notes scattered across the floor) into their dialogue, with hilarious results. Students provided the suggestions in advance based on cues such as song lyrics, a phrase you would hear in a classroom, and “something your parents would say.”

“In considering the Speaker Series, it has been my goal to bring speakers or groups to campus which expose our students to a range of thoughts and ideas,” said Melissa Schomers, a member of the English Department faculty and coordinator of the Speaker Series, who noted that the selection of an improv troupe also tied in with the school’s themeline, “Think Fearlessly, Act Thoughtfully.” “In an effort to ask students to ‘Think Fearlessly’ about who they are, how they choose to spend their time, or what they believe, I want to push them beyond their comfort zones, and in this case, we did it through improv.”

During the school day, the Sea Tea performers worked with members of The Gunnery Drama Society, who are currently in rehearsals for this year’s winter musical, “Young Frankenstein.” The timing of the event coincided with a Community Weekend when students are required to remain on campus for special programs and discussions organized by Dean of Students Jess Matthews, Ph.D., and the Dean of Students Office.

“Dr. Matthews and I hoped the students would enjoy the performance, have a good laugh, and come together as a community around the experience,” Schomers said. “In addition, we wanted to introduce students to a different type of performance and another possibility for getting involved in the arts. Math teacher Kevin Clemente has started an improv group on campus, and this was a great way to help get students excited about opportunities to try improv and acting beyond our fall play and winter musical.”

Founded in 2009, Sea Tea is a professional comedy company that performs and teaches improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy through classes, workshops and performances at its own comedy theater in Hartford. Its performers and instructors have trained at America's top comedy institutions, including the Upright Citizens Brigade, The Second City and ImprovBoston.

Previous guests in the Speaker Series this year included author Andrew Postman, who spoke to in September about the power and influence of technology and how we can use it wisely. In February, The Gunnery plans to host best-selling author Max Boot P’20, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington Post columnist and Global Affairs Analyst for CNN, who will talk about conservatism and the future of the Republican Party.
 
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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.