‘Letting go and having fun’: Ruckus brings improv comedy to Pitt


Image courtesy of Lola Dardzinski

Members of Ruckus outside the Cathedral of Learning.

By Samantha Salz, Staff Writer

Christopher Matthews, a member of Pitt’s Ruckus improv comedy troupe, said the group makes the art of improv accessible to anyone.

“Most people see improv as an inaccessible form of theater because of its perceived difficulty, but if you think about it, every conversation you have is just improv,” Matthews, a sophomore linguistics and Italian major, said. “Everyone is an improv actor in their everyday life — Ruckus just allows you to channel that energy into comedy.”

According to the Pitt theater arts department website, Ruckus started in 2013 with the mission to “improve its members’ comedic and performance skills and save the world one joke at a time.” Ruckus has about 20 members and holds practices in the Cathedral of Learning on Saturdays. It also performs live shows every Saturday and information about shows can be found on Instagram.

Joshua Reed, a sophomore theater arts and political science double major, said he expanded on his prior improv experience during his first year in Ruckus.

“This is my first year as a member of Ruckus, but I’ve been performing improv in comedy clubs and festivals since I was 16 back home in Norfolk, Virginia, and It’s something I love so I wanted to continue to do that here in Pittsburgh,” Reed said.

Reed also said building on his past improv experience through Ruckus made him more technically skilled as a performer.

“It helps a ton with getting used to being entertaining [and] creative on the spot which eliminates a lot of the overthinking that can paralyze you sometimes as a performer,” Reed said. “It’s helped me to gain a lot of technical skill and confidence as a performer, and has helped with anxiety.”

Though many members of Ruckus join the club with a theater or performance background, president Victoria Chuah said there are also many members, including herself, who came into the club with little to no prior experience.

“I got involved in Ruckus my freshman year, and I had always been very interested in improv,” Chuah said. “I thought it was such a fascinating idea that you just have to go up and have no script [and] no preparation … As they say, ‘the rest is history,’ and it’s just been a really great group I’ve been involved in my entire life at Pitt, and I really couldn’t imagine doing Pitt without Ruckus.”

When Chuah first joined Ruckus, she said the group operated similarly to how it operates today. But the COVID-19 pandemic made these in-person performances and meetings near impossible, according to Chuah, forcing Ruckus to do what they do best — improvise.

“Only one person could really talk at a time [on Zoom], and that’s not true to real life when you’re doing scenes, so that was really hard,” Chuah said. “Last year we did two virtual shows when restrictions were getting lifted a bit, the group itself met in person and then we had a Zoom call where it was us performing and other people watching, still, it’s hard to not hear reactions or get suggestions.”

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, Chuah said Ruckus members still continue to learn not only new performance skills, such as enhanced characterization and confidence building, as a part of the troupe, but also many valuable life and interpersonal skills.

“It’s really helpful just with your own personal life, I mean, presentations aren’t really scary for me anymore,” Chuah said. “So much of life is improv because you never really know what’s going to happen, and I feel like it’s just made me a lot more comfortable in uncertain situations.”

Besides learning valuable skills, Abby Morgan said Ruckus members gain an escape from the seriousness of everyday life.

“[Ruckus] honestly makes me feel like a kid again because it’s very similar to when I used to play pretend in elementary school,” Morgan, a sophomore English literature major, said. “Also, laughter is good for the soul and I am laughing 90% of the time every week at practice.”

According to Matthews, the process to audition for Ruckus, which comes once every September, is not only simple but also enjoyable.

“I think everyone should audition for Ruckus solely to have the experience of doing improv once,” Matthews said. “The audition is similar to what we do in rehearsal, which is ultimately about letting go and having fun.”

Reed also said interested students should think about auditioning for Ruckus, regardless of performance background.

“It’s a lot of fun, with a lot of great people involved, even if you don’t get to join a group right away, it’d still recommend everyone, performer or not, to at least try improv once in their life,” Reed said. “It’s an experience worth taking, and it’s certainly changed my life.”