Motivated student creates, leads new improv groups

By Molly Grosskreutz

A&E Editor

When junior music theatre major   JT Backes arrived on Viterbo’s campus last fall, he knew something was missing. He had just returned from teaching improvisational theatre (improv) to young children in his hometown of Milwaukee. Having participated in improv since he was in eighth grade, and doing it practically every day in the summer, he wanted to bring the spontaneous art form back to college with him and share it with his fellow classmates.

So he did just that. Last year, Backes built a solid foundation by guiding a committed 10-member ensemble. This year, Backes succeeded in sanctioning three student improv teams as university-funded clubs.

Backes’ goal is to oversee the success of the three different groups. The first group is compiled of the original 10 returning members from last year. In addition to that group, Backes is instructing a 10 to 15-member “New Member Short Form Group.”

“It’s basically like Improv 101,” Backes said during an interview with Lumen.

For those with a more competitive edge, Backes is building a competitive team made up of five to seven members, whom he hopes to take to improv competitions such as the Chicago College Improv tournament in Minneapolis this November.

“Competing is a new thing for me and Viterbo,” Backes said.

A distant—but not impossible—dream of his is to fly somewhere with his team to compete.

Backes won’t be the only one guiding his fellow students. Backes plans on inviting his professional connections back in Milwaukee to come to campus and give improv workshops.

What does the improv art form have to offer the Viterbo community?

“I feel that improvisation gives you skills in everything. Life skills through stage skills.” Improv opens people up and allows them to fight whatever inhibitions may be holding them back both as performers and as people, Backes added.

The groups’ first practice was Sept. 16, and future performances are to be announced.

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