For the local improv group on Winona State campus, being a member is a part of an exclusive club.
There are nine improvisers on the RunnerUp comedy troupe, a student manager, and a tech assistant, bringing the total to 11 members.
The Tuesday before Winona State’s spring break, 15 students showed up to try their luck in the troupe’s annual auditions.
“It’s more than we’ve ever gotten, RunnerUp facilitator and WSU junior Keagan Anderson said. “The largest audition that I’ve seen here is six.”
RunnerUp formed back in 2008 with a handful of members. They primarily do shows on Winona State campus, but have recently started to increase their reach.
Show locations around Winona include Blooming Grounds coffeehouse, Ed’s No-Name Bar, Bub’s, and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Additionally, the troupe has collaborated with La Crosse’s troupe, The Backwards Thinking Society, and plans to do a show with WSU’s A cappella group Hear and Now in April.
On a national scale, RunnerUp is growing too. For the first time in three years, RunnerUp competed in the Chicago Improvisational Tournment (CIT). Regionals were held in December at the Minneapolis HUGE Theater.
RunnerUp won the first round with their trademark sketch, called a “Mockumentary.” Members compare the sketch to the show “The Office,” where characters can have an aside to address the audience.
The group finished third in the Midwest at CIT, their best finish at a national tournament.
“I think the name we make for ourselves through our shows really ended up speaking for us,” Anderson said.
While the number of students who turned up for auditions was surprising to the group, it’s evident RunnerUp’s plan is working.
“This year’s turnout really speaks to how much we got the word out, but also how much people appreciate our club and want to be a part of it,” Anderson said. “We’ve definitely been more present on social media. Beyond that, we were very good about publicizing events, and a lot more word of mouth than we have in the past.”
Anderson said going into auditions, RunnerUp was expected to bring on three new members. With the overwhelming amount of talent to choose from this year, they doubled the total to six. Over half of the 15 students who auditioned were freshmen.
Emma Tomb, a sophomore, was eager to compete for a spot in the group.
“All through high school I was on a [sic] improv troupe, and it was quite a community,” Tomb said. “Through seeing what [RunnerUp] has created, it seems like they have a nice little community here, and it seems like something that I’d want to be a part of.”
Freshman Will Diedrich said the group could also help build real world skills.
“I want to be in RunnerUp because I want to learn to do improv,” Diedrich said. “Improv has a lot of real world use. It pretty much applies to anything you want to do, and it uses a lot of communication skills, which I could work on as a person.”
Tomb and Diedrich were part of the six people notified they had made the troupe, shortly before Winona State’s spring break last week.
“I think it was overwhelming,” Diedrich said of the audition process. “I didn’t expect that many people to be there. But it worked out well in the end.”
Now, the new members will practice every Tuesday and Thursday from 8-10 P.M. in Winona State’s Performing Arts Center − preparing for upcoming shows and learning new improve skills.
“The first practice was alright, the big thing was that you have to perform with everyone else now that’s in RunnerUp,” Diedrich said. “It was a little difficult to step up to their level. They’re all really encouraging and everything, but it’s still a little bit nervous when you’re dealing with all the people that are experts in the field.”
Anderson said that the new members will be put to work right away.
“We’re really looking to push them,” he said. “During the audition process you only see two or three different sides of a person, and maybe we see a lot of potential, but you want to push them and open up that potential and show us what they got.”
Even with a new mass of members, the group dynamic is still the same.
“We’re definitely a group that fits together,” Anderson concluded.
Runner Up’s next show is currently scheduled for April 30th, in Winona State’s Student Activity Center. The cost is free. For more event updates, follow RunnerUp on their Facebook page.
To view clips of RunnerUp’s shows − including their winning CIT performance − visit their YouTube page.