Northwestern improv group performs at Chicago Improv Festival


Courtesy Muhammed Patel

Northwestern Improv group Out Da Box performs in their 2016 spring show, ODBonics. The group recently performed in the Chicago Improv Festival.

Emily Chin, A&E Editor

“Musical on!” shouts someone from backstage. McCormick sophomore Muhammed Patel immediately begins to sing. The audience is hysterical.

This is a typical performance for Out Da Box, an improv and sketch group on campus. The group does short form improv, which is a high-energy performance that relies on quick thinking and making jokes on the spot, Patel said.

ODB recently performed at the Chicago Improv Festival as one of the festival’s college groups. The festival, which took place March 27 to April 2, features professional improv performers from throughout the U.S. ODB did a 20 minute performance between professional acts.

“It was cool being on the same stage as professional improv groups,” Patel said. “It was great that we were chosen to represent the school. It was a big honor”

John Hildreth, a well-known performer in the Chicago area and artistic director for the festival, emailed ODB inviting the group to perform in the festival, said ODB director Harry Wood.

ODB’s performance in the festival allowed the group to step into the greater Chicago improv community, said Communication freshman Dora Grossman-Weir, who also performed at the festival.

“It’s a testament to the reputation and quality of ODB,” said Wood, a Communication senior. “In my four years here, ODB has grown its reputation and its audience every year that I’ve been in the group. I’m lucky to be on the receiving end of it.”

Wood said performing at the festival was particularly fun for him because he had performed at the same theater with another group and it was interesting to be back with a different performance and a different audience. For Wood, however, the joy of performing with ODB isn’t about the venue or the audience. The joy comes more from performing with the group, he said.

What sets ODB apart from the other comedy groups on campus is its level of diversity, Patel said. The members view themselves as a multicultural group, and actively recruit students of color. Patel said the comedy community at Northwestern is primarily made up of theater majors, a group that sometimes lacks diversity.

“I firmly believe that ODB is the best group on this campus in comedy because we are diverse,” he said. “We bring so many people to the table and are able to write such diverse comedy. I’m Muslim so I can write about that. Our black members can write sketches about the black community.”

Prior to joining ODB, Patel hadn’t explored race on a deeper level. However, joining the group opened his eyes to important questions surrounding diversity and inclusion in today’s society, he said.

Wood agreed that ODB’s diversity fills in some of the gaps that other groups don’t always hit.

“It fills a gap that people are looking for especially in a time today where commentary is becoming a part of comedy,” he said. “They’re looking for comedy to have a meaning or an angle or a purpose. I think the vast majority of the stuff that we do is comedy with a purpose and that puts us in an exciting place.”

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