Josh Izaak, a College junior, has been part of Rathskellar, Emory’s only official improv troupe, since his freshman year. He is the acknowledged “emperor” of Rathskellar.
1. What do you do during a typical practice session?
After warm-ups, I tend to have the group perform exercises relating to a theme, like continuity or physicality. Then we play improv games that relate to both the theme and exercises.
2. What skills do you look for when recruiting members?
A major factor for me is someone who is willing to jump up and try new things. If there’s apprehension at auditions I can’t tell if that’s how they’ll actually act in front of an audience. Another trait I personally look for is someone who shares the space well. If someone is trying to steal the spotlight or refusing to make their scene partner look good, that’s a major turnoff in my book. In the end, most people who audition for Rathskellar have the ability to be in the group. The hard part is when we have to select the people whose styles and personalities mesh the best to make the most cohesive group possible. It’s always difficult to turn people down, but in order to be productive the group cannot really get beyond a certain size.
3. How do the dynamics of the group change from year to year?
The group dynamic is changing constantly, not just from year to year, but also from semester to semester. I haven’t been in Rathskellar one year where everyone who started at the beginning of the year has lasted to the end. It’s mostly because people go abroad so they obviously can’t improvise with us if they are out of the country. A lot of the change in dynamic has to do with the amount of returning members. For instance, this year eight out of the 12 members are brand new. It’s great because the concept of improv is so fresh to them, that they’re willing to really explore and have no preconceived notions of what Rathskellar is supposed to be. Also, because there are so many fresh faces, they don’t feel intimidated when attempting a new game because the majority of the group is in the same boat as they are.
4. What do Emory students tend to find the most humorous?
From strictly watching reactions to our shows, it seems the audience is most responsive to good character work, or when we make witty connections from scene to scene.
5. What’s the most difficult aspect of performing in an improv group?
Having absolutely no idea what you’re doing until you start a scene. While being the most difficult, it’s also the most rewarding. To get done with a great scene and have the audience respond well is the greatest feeling, knowing that you came up with something spontaneously and it was effective.
6. What happens when the audience’s suggestions aren’t very good?
I’ve never been in a situation where we took a suggestion and had no idea what to do or where to go with it. I usually ask for broad categories like a relationship or location, and with such a wide range of things to choose from, the audience usually is able to come through.
7. Why did you originally decide to get involved with Rathskellar?
It was actually sort of a fluke. I had done theatre in high school and was thinking about continuing at Emory. I had no real plan to try out for Rathskellar. I went to the activities fair freshman year, and went to the performing arts area. As I was signing up to audition for things like SAP and Ad Hoc, the then-Emperor of Rathskellar, Mollie Taxe, turned to me and asked, “WANT TO DO IMPROV?” I looked straight at her and my gut reaction was, “I’D LOVE TO DO SOME IMPROV.” The rest is history.
8. What happens when you drop the ball while in an improv performance?
I never think of us as ever “dropping the ball.” The great thing about improv is nothing is wrong. Some scenes are more effective than others, but anything we say is correct because it is all made up. What I try to stress to everyone is to always have fun, and regardless of an audience’s reaction to a scene, if we’re enjoying ourselves that’s all that matters.
9. What can students expect from Rathskellar this year?
While we’re still going to do our traditional shows and formats that everyone has come to know and love, we’re experimenting with new games and concepts which we hope to begin integrating into our shows. We dabbled with song at the end of last year, but I’ve been trying to really push it this year and make it a mainstay in performance. This year we’re also going to have our first alumni show, where anyone who has graduated and was in Rathskellar can come to perform with us in an epic night of comedy. That show will be later this semester, and more info for that will come soon.
As far as our upcoming show on Sunday is concerned, it’s going to be fantastic. This group has bonded better and quicker than any I have been apart of previously. They are all so talented, and they never cease to amaze me. I’m extremely proud, and whenever I see them perform I get so excited for what we’re capable of accomplishing.
10. Finally — what does Rathskellar mean?
It’s the German word for basement. Originally Rathskellar performed and practiced in the basements of building on campus and they decided to name the group after their practice space.
— Interview by Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai