It’s a funny story: Plastic Shatners reflect on history

Andrew Addessi and Andrew Addessi

Comedy is a serious business. Whether it is writing an hour-long show or setting up a funny story at parties, there is always that risk of a joke falling flat. Then what? According to one of the golden rules for the Plastic Shatners, the BGSU improv comedy group, you have to ‘Keep things moving.’

And they haven’t stopped moving since they started around 20 years ago.

“They were a loose group at a festival,” junior Danielle Bender, the new director of the group, recalled. When it first started out, the team didn’t even have a name.  

“They said ‘OK, everyone empty your pockets.’ And one of them had a little plastic Captain Kirk figure with them.”

From a loose improv group to the main collaborators with BGSU’s long-form and female-exclusive improv teams, Bad Genetics and Lady Parts, respectively, the Plastic Shatners have continued to grow year after year, with both younger and older members joining their ranks.

And they’re always on the hunt for new talent. Earlier this semester, they held workshops and auditions open to any student who was interested. They introduced their methods and rules for good improv comedy such as always saying, “Yes, and …” — which encourages them to build off their stage partners rather than shutting them down —  helping everyone and taking risks. Then they let others give it a try, introducing games and skits.

Whether they introduce simple call and response games or made participants get creative by coming up with scenes, they made sure everyone was able to take part, no matter their background or interests.

“I never did theatre or speech or anything in front of a crowd ever,” Bender said. “I saw a flyer for Lady Parts workshops and it said, ‘Are you a funny gal?’ And I was like yeah, I’m kind of funny, so I went and just had a really good time.”

Among the Plastic Shatners, there certainly is a strong emphasis on teamwork and positivity. With new members coming in and leaving each year, this can be a challenging code to keep to. During auditions, they make sure to look for not only talent, but the level of energy they bring to the table. The more energy a person brings, the bigger their characters are, which makes it all the more entertaining to see them work off scene partners.

The auditions are held each year toward the beginning of the semester, and each year, everyone including hopeful newcomers and veterans have to clear the same hurdles. After the initial auditions, all the contestants gather at their emails and await callbacks. If they find themselves lucky enough, they have a shot at joining the team.

“We look for a number of things: character work, environment work, and scene work. Basically, we want to see that you can be different characters, build a world around you and play with its elements and keep a scene moving in a positive direction,” Bender said.

Obviously they need to be on top of their game, especially when it comes to performing at festivals. Every other weekend, the Plastic Shatners are performing a show in the Education Building around 7 p.m. or going to festivals. 

“Festivals are so amazing because we get to not only see professional improvisers and learn from them, but we also get to know each other better and bond so much on trips,” Bender said.

On Nov. 15 and 16, the Plastic Shatners are planning their own festival, Falcon Fuse. They invite improv groups from all over the area for two nights of performances where they perform with their own teams and even shuffle members from different teams to experiment. Even against competition, the sense of community still holds strong.

“All my best friends are people in the improv community,” Bender said. “I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t joined.”