Natasha Williams wrote a sketch about her battle against “the death stairs” while preparing for Company's performance in Spring Sing 2018.
Williams, a fourth-year communication student, despised the steps next to Café 1919 as a first-year student and wanted to turn her experience into a humorous skit. As one of six newcomers to Company, a team that performs comedy sketches between each musical act at Spring Sing, Williams was finally able to bring her idea to life. Company, which consists of 12 members in total, writes original UCLA-based sketches for Spring Sing each year. The Company directors said they implemented multiple measures, including a mentorship system, to prepare new team members for Spring Sing 2018.
"We had six returners and six new members, so everybody had a mentor-mentee pairing," said Jacob Fisher, a third-year cognitive science student.
Giulia Marsella, a third-year psychology and dance student and one of the group’s directors, said Company members prepared the team by bringing in two alumni who made sketchwriting into a career, most notably for "Arrested Development." Fisher, Marsella's co-director, said in addition to the members' penchant for acting and writing, the directors wanted to educate them about the sketch format. Marsella said they created group-bonding events as well.
"We are the parents, essentially, implementing bonding and familial integration ... to make sure (that) when they perform they’re as tight and as close of a group as they can be," she said.
Returning Company member and third-year history student Nate Glovinsky also helped the newcomers by creating documents that outline the format for writing sketches, in Company-specific style. Williams said she learned how to write sketches based on either characters or situations while playing with the "game" of the sketch – an escalating pattern of similar actions that progress from commonplace to absurd. Within the sketch, there are three beats, or escalating scenarios, and the "game" increases into more unlikely situations with each one.
Another way the newcomers learned how to write sketches for Company was through interaction with more seasoned members, said second-year theater student and new Company member Danielle Koenig. Because the team is divided evenly between experienced and new members, each returning writer became a mentor for one of the new writers. Their first assignment was to write a sketch together so each newcomer learned the sketch format and process in a hands-on manner, she said.
Once each writer learned the three-beat format, the mentor-mentee system gradually shifted out in favor of a new system – each week, every team member would write one sketch individually and one with a randomly selected member. Wes Dunlap, a new addition to Company and a fourth-year theater student, said writing scripts in pairs helped him diversify the material he put out because each person has a different set of experiences and ideas.
“I think we’ve written a lot together more than in years past, which is nice because people do have very specific voices,” he said. “I think a lot of my sketches wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if I hadn’t written it with someone else.”
After members turn in their sketches each week, Koenig said the group works together to contribute edits and provide advice. Williams said she learned to rewrite some scripts to fit a different genre if too many of the submitted sketches occupy the same one. The “death stairs" sketch originally took on a dark tone, similar to others that made it into the show, so she said she rewrote it into a hero’s journey up the stairs.
“I thought of (the sketch) ... and had three years to think about, and now I finally get to put it in the light,” she said. “I’m enjoying being able to learn, and I’m so excited to get this sketch out there.”