Sunday’s performance by The Groundlings isn’t just a comedy show.
It’s an opportunity for Cal Poly’s improvisational comedy club, Smile and Nod, to see their professional peers in action.
“It’s really exciting because we’ll learn so much by seeing what they’re doing,” said Mitch Epeneter, a Smile and Nod member since 2007.
Founded by student Mark Sitko in 1997, Smile and Nod is Cal Poly’s only improv group.
The student-run club currently has 23 members studying everything from aerospace engineering and biology to theater arts. Epeneter, a liberal studies major, is one of two managers charged with setting up shows, selling T-shirts and organizing the group’s biannual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Epeneter said of the three-week trip, held every other August.
Smile and Nod holds tryouts at the start of each term.
“Sometimes we’ll take people with really clear fundamentals,” Epeneter said. Other times, a strong stage presence and charisma are all that’s needed.
Smile and Nod performs two shows every Saturday during the first six or seven weekends of fall, winter and spring terms. The group gets its biggest audiences during Cal Poly’s Week of Welcome, Epeneter said.
“There’s a lot of strong support for (Smile and Nod),” he said. “In general, people are pretty open and pretty excited to be here.”
Although most Smile and Nod alumni probably won’t go on to become professional comedians, Epeneter said the benefits of studying and performing improv can’t be overlooked.
“Even if it’s not necessarily a career path, it’s a tool that can be used in other parts of your life,” Epeneter said. “One of the most fundamental things is being able to think quickly and adapt. That’s useful.”