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This past week, comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, well- known for their work on the hit improvisational comedy Whose Line Is It Anyway?, visited Stevens Point.
“These artists were brought in as part of the Sentry Insurance Invitation to the Arts program,” said College of Fine Arts & Communication Marketing Specialist Bobbie Erwin. “Suggestions for artists are sought from the faculty and staff of the college, then after researching availability and cost, a list of potential visiting artists is proposed to Sentry, who then makes the final decision.”
The Sentry Insurance Foundation has allied with the College of Fine Arts & Communication for the past decade to bring the series back to Stevens Point year after year.
It is the goal of the program to provide local students, from grade school through college, opportunities to interact with outstanding professionals in the fine arts.
“While our students are working really hard all the time, and they’re all great people, that little dose of ‘here’s someone recognizable and famous sharing their work with them’ is part of the pathway that they’re going down,” said Gary Olsen, Chair of the Department of Fine Arts & Communication. “Hearing the techniques described, explained and critiqued by someone outside of the university reinforces the value of what’s going on.”
Mochrie and Sherwood performed Tuesday, Sept. 22 for local middle school students and again for the greater community the following Friday, Sept. 25.
“The two artists had never done a performance for children, so they had to tweak their approach and their material a bit to work with them,” Olsen said. “To my understanding, it went over splendidly.”
Erwin, who attended Tuesday’s performance, confirmed Olsen’s sentiment.
“The area 6th graders benefit in many ways. Not only by experiencing these artists, but also through interacting with them and learning about how art merges with other disciplines and isn’t just a class they take in elementary school,” Erwin said.
Olsen additionally went on to describe the public performance which took place Friday evening as “hysterical”, and said that both individuals had “a fabulous relationship with the local crowd.”
The duo also aided in the teaching of a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point master class on Friday morning, where they shared their expertise with students throughout the entire Fine Arts & Communication department.
“This was an opportunity for Mochrie and Sherwood to share their skill and training with students who will be using those techniques when they go out to pursue their acting careers,” Olsen said. “Improvisation is part of our curriculum here on campus, so to have them come in and reinforce what we’re already teaching is a great value.”
John Ford-Dunker, a musical theatre major who attended both the master class and the comedian’s public performance, thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.
He said he was inspired to see “not only how seasoned and talented they were, but also how they weren’t afraid to fail or make complete fools of themselves in front of large audiences.”
“It’s always beneficial for actors to hone their improv skills,” Ford-Dunker said. “We put a large amount of emphasis on listening and responding truthfully in our work, so it was really nice for almost every student in the department to get a shot at doing that in front of an audience.”
According to Olsen, the SIIA program will continue to benefit not only area students, but also the entire community, referring to Sentry Insurance’ ongoing support of the series as “really insightful.”
“This is not a little endeavor that they’re making; they are really giving to the community. These are some really powerful artists that we get exposure to, and Sentry should be thanked for that,” Olsen said.
Mockerie and Sherwood continued their Stevens Point visit by showing off their comedic genius at Sentry Insurance’s 10th Invitation to the Arts.
It was a night full of laughs and memorable jokes. The audience was a big part of the show, calling out suggestions and even comingonstage to join the duo as they crafted skits.
The first game in the show found the pair in Tahiti, starting up a church for go-go dancers.
The skits that followed were no less goofy – the audience was treated to a reenactment of a married couple’s first date, questions answered in rap form and had the audience wondering if they really did know what they meant during a skit entitled “If You Know What I Mean”.
Members of the audience helped create the show in a number of ways, most notably during a skit entitled “Sound Effects”.
Fans of the Whose Line television show will know how this game is played – the cast handed off the microphones to eager fans who then contribute sound effects to the skit which the actors have to react to. The microphone holders certainly showed off their noise-making prowess.
The finale was a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” with customized lyrics about the show, referencing all the jokes that audience had shared.
In all, it was a memorable night that ended with an intense abdominal work-out from laughter.
Over the two day span that Mochrie and Sherwood visited Stevens Point, over 1,500 campus and community members were able to take part in this year’s SIIA programsaid.