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‘Yes, and …’

Dead Parrots Society: Improvising entertainment for Western students since 1998

During performances, members of the club will pause to involve audience participation in the following skit. Pictured from left to right: Kylee Shumway, Michael Sanders and Sarah Roberts look out into the audience during DPS Fest at the end of March 2023 in the Old Main Theater in Bellingham, Wash. // Photo courtesy of Kylee Shumway

Under the spotlight, undivided attention is set on first-year Western Washington University student Sarah Roberts. There’s no room for error.

Performing was her passion, but this was an entirely different sensation of entertainment, causing a much greater adrenaline rush. This was improv.

The Dead Parrots Society meets every Tuesday in Bond Hall 225 from 8 to 10 p.m. Practices are open for anyone to join at their comfort level.

Roberts began going to the club in fall 2022 and joined the team at the end of winter quarter and is now a performance team member.

“I had been doing theatre forever and [improv] was a new form that I had only tried a little in high school,” she said. “I thought it looked fun.” 

Roberts was drawn to the club after seeing a performance during the incoming freshman events hosted on campus. Looking to get out of her shell, DPS was the perfect thing to help her pursue her creative expression while also building meaningful relationships.

(2) “Yes, and…”
All performance team members gather for a group photo during Ratprov at the DUG Theater on May 13, 2023 in Bellingham, Wash. The performance consisted of the group’s normal improv practices, but everyone acted as rats. // Photo courtesy of Kylee Shumway

Second-year Kylee Shumway is the club’s budget and business director and said the club currently has 11 members — the most they’ve had since before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“My favorite part of DPS is definitely getting to meet new people and have people laugh at something I say,” she said. “When a joke lands, it is one of the best feelings.”

Roberts said her favorite parts of being in the club are the strong community and how it all is like a giant trust exercise.

Gillian Myers, general manager of The Upfront Theatre in Bellingham, said there’s a reason why the phrase “yes, and…” is so widely used in improv.

“In improv, we strive to listen in the moment to connect and create a world that has never existed before. The buy-in to the thing that is being made is essential,” she said in an email. “You have to ‘yes, and’ to build something together.”

In preparation for shows, DPS’s artistic director chooses an improv format that the club rehearses for at least an hour before collaborating to come up with questions for the audience.

Some notable events the club has done so far include DPS Fest in March 2023 and Ratprov.

“It’s like improv, but we’re all rats,” Roberts said.

Shumway admitted to the reality of performing on hard days — the days where faking an emotion can make it difficult to participate.

“It’s fine to be tired or not always be ‘on,’ it doesn’t mean you aren’t funny,” she said. “It just means you are taking time for you.”

However, passion drives persistence, and both Shumway and Roberts have considered a future in improv.

“To make money off of improv, you either need to teach it or be invited to be on SNL,” Shumway said. “If it happens or I happen to get an invitation to do it somewhere I would, but for now my plan is to stick to using the geology degree I’m currently working [toward].”

Roberts is also content with having the club be a creative outlet for now, but while she’s a part of it, she is going all in. She hopes to eventually be elected by fellow club members into the DPS board positions as they become available so she can lead the team and contribute more.

The club recently began performing at The Blue Room, offering DPS merch that can be bought at shows.

DPS will finish off the year with the final two SQUAY shows: DPS Up Next on May 31 at the Underground Coffeehouse at 8 p.m. and the Senior Goodbye in the Old Main Theater on June 4 at 8 p.m. Both shows are free to attend.

Shumway encourages others to join DPS because of the inclusive and collaborative space that allows for active participation and can help build confidence. With bad improv experiences in the past of being overshadowed by strong-willed male actors, she said she has seen immense improvement in herself these past couple of years and has felt like she has a voice within DPS.

“I even remember telling my mom that I was just going [to try DPS] once to say I went and then never [go] back,” she said.

Myers said it can be easy to get bogged down by the rules, so her advice for those who are new to improv is to remember the true goal of connecting with a scene partner and the audience in order to create a story.

“You are there to play and create something with someone else in the moment, one piece at a time,” she said. “Make eye contact to find that connection and truly be in the moment.”

Deven Meddaugh

Deven Meddaugh (she/her)  is a sophomore and is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is an RA in the Edens-Higginson community and in her free time you can catch her hanging out with friends and family, playing Just Dance, re-watching her favorite movies/TV shows or writing. 

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