Even on a Tuesday night in the midst of midterms, students began to trickle into Tommy’s Place at 10 p.m., eager for Spoiler Alert’s weekly improv show. When the house lights finally dimmed, the eight members of the troupe ran onstage to raucous applause.
Having gleaned from the audience only the genre (romantic comedy) and title (Bushels of Bandits in Love) of the TV show they were about to enact, the actors proceeded to engage in an hour-long love story between two opposing crime syndicates — a dramatic saga that involved betrayal, heartbreak, intrigue and murder.
Spoiler Alert was founded in 2011, making it one of the younger improv troupes on campus. The group focuses on their signature long-form and short-form episode format, where the players assume characters in a TV show whose name and genre is determined by the audience’s whims. The “episode” is periodically interrupted by short-form “commercial breaks.” Their format is unique; no other troupe follows this setup. Kim Rogers, a junior majoring in broadcast journalism, appreciates how plot-driven improv allows for more in-depth character exploration than just games and sketches.
“We really like to dive into the relationships between characters. It’s also fun for us when we’re doing episodes to play on movie and TV tropes,” Rogers said. “I think it makes it fun for the audience because they see archetypes that they recognize, but silly and made-up.”
The current troupe leader is Cameron Gavinski, a junior majoring in animation and theatre, who often takes the reins during the performance and addresses the audience, soliciting suggestions that the players are forced to run with. His first exposure to Spoiler Alert occurred, incidentally, while he hadn’t yet even matriculated at USC.
“I first joined my freshman year, and I’ve been the leader for about two-and-a-half years now,” Gavinski said. “When I visited for Explore USC, the prior leader of Spoiler Alert was on a panel and she was saying what she was doing, and I thought she was so cool. I wanted to come to USC and do the exact same thing she was doing and now I am.”
While other, more established troupes may give off an air of intimidation, Spoiler Alert makes a conscious effort to remain open, warm and friendly. Chris Tennant, a junior majoring in film and television production, auditioned for several different improv troupes, but felt his nerves dissipating during the Spoiler Alert tryouts.
“I felt during the audition process that Spoiler Alert had the most welcoming atmosphere. When they were watching us audition it felt like they wanted us to succeed, they wanted to have fun with us,” Tennant said. “The audition process can be scary and we try to be open to people at all levels who love improv.”
Despite its status as a relative newcomer to the USC improv scene, Spoiler Alert has already cultivated a small but devoted group of fans who ensure that they never miss a single performance. Aly Ferguson, a junior majoring in narrative studies, caught her first show at the beginning of the year and has been a fixture in the audience ever since.
“I really like improv, and Spoiler Alert is really funny,” Ferguson said. “I came to one of their shows and I liked their format, which to my knowledge the other troupes don’t do.”
Being a part of Spoiler Alert is a hefty commitment; in addition to the Tuesday shows, rehearsals take place three times a week, for a total of 10 to 12 hours devoted to the group. The troupe also hosts weekly improv workshops called “Improvtu,” that allow anyone to join in on the fun on Friday evenings. Despite the intense schedule, however, the experience remains incredibly rewarding for members.
“Every week I laugh more than I’ve ever laughed in my life before. Now I’m best friends with the funniest people I know, and it is so rewarding and fulfilling,” Gavinski said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”