The Informant is a 22 year old male, a senior at USC, and was born and raised in Manhattan Beach, CA.
Me: So, you’re on a comedy troupe, are there any rituals you guys like to do before shows?
Him: We like to make sure that we’re all connected, on the same page, and in a good, fun, mind-set so that we can do well in the show together and support each other. So we do a pre-show chant. We pick one person a school-year who is in charge of it and it’s their job to come up with a chant, on the spot, before every show, to match the specific rhythm that we always use for it. And it has to relate to the theme of our show that week.
Me: For example, if you’re doing a show about Shakespeare that week, the chant has to be Shakespeare themed and fit into the rhythm?
Him: Yes. Exactly.
Me: And they have to make it up on the spot?
Him: Yeah, they can’t plan it during the day.
Me: But what if they do?
Him: Well, we just kinda go by the honor code. And you can tell if they’ve pre-planned it. It’s not as good if they’ve thought about it in advance. You can just tell. So, yeah, they make up a 3-line chant on the spot that can fit in the rhythm we always use and our show theme.
Me: How do you perform it?
Him: We all crouch down in a circle with one hand in the middle, and first, only whisper the chant. Then we keep repeating it, and repeating it, slowly getting louder and louder, until we’re jumping up like crazy people and screaming the chant at the top of our lungs, and we kind of all decide together when it’s going to end. It’s spontaneous. We just feel it out and it’s great. Super fun. Gets us super amped before the show.
Me: How long have you been doing this as a troupe?
Him: It’s been passed down for like 6 years now, since spring of 2008 when the troupe got started. And depending on the person whose job it is to create the chant, it’s been different every year.
Me: How so?
Him: So, last year my friend A***** was the pre-show chant guy, and his chants were always witty and had a twist at the end. This year I have another friend doing it and hers are really good at tying themes in, and they tend to be cute little diddies. My friend E*** did it my first year on the troupe and he always managed to use the word “queef” in all of his chants.
I think this practice is similar to many other rituals in theatre and performance arts in general. There seems to be a definite concentration on achieving a specific mindset in order to be successful onstage, where unity of the performers is the ultimate goal. I think the significance of improvising the chant on the spot emphasizes the importance of the present moment, which is a large part of many acting/performance curriculums. Being in the present in the current moment. Improvising and “jumping up like crazy people” also seem to become liberating tasks that allows the actors to let go of embarrassment and self-consciousness, and therefore could possibly quell any levels of stage fright.