MU Sketch rebrands as Battlewhale, keeps ‘em laughing

The tide continues to rise for the only sketch comedy group on campus as it establishes a single identity.
After rebranding MU Sketch, the comedy group now known as Battlewhale hosted their first show Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 in the Leadership Auditorium. The group hopes to inspire other students who wish to be involved with comedy. Courtesy of Kelly Olejnik

This semester is a rebranding semester for Battlewhale, once known as MU Sketch.

MU Sketch used to be two teams of six people each. This year, the two teams of the sketch comedy group combined forces to form a single group of 12 members.

Junior Dan Leo, Battlewhale’s assistant director, said he feels that it as the best choice because of reliability and what the team has represented.

“Battlewhale has always had a distinct style, more minimalistic and with an edge of weirdness,” Leo said. “It wasn’t afraid to make the audience uneasy, which I always admire. Battlewhale is the only team name that stayed consistent, so that’s why, when we melded them all into one team, we chose that team. It’s the one that had the highest brand value to us and to the people who had come seen our shows. They knew what Battlewhale was.”

Many of the team members also participate in the two other comedy groups on campus: Comedy Wars and MU Improv. But where those groups use improvisational comedy, Battlewhale writes scripts for the majority of what they perform.

“Instead of aligning more with Improv Olympics or Saturday Night Live, we function more like Second City or Groundlings, where we come up with different sketches that are based around improv but are fleshed out through writing,” Leo said.

Functioning as one larger team produces numerous positive effects on the group’s productions.

The lengths of performances have decreased from two and a half hours down to one hour. More people can now be onstage within a sketch as extras and secondary characters.

The melding of the teams also creates stronger relationships between team members. Junior Hailey Moore, Battlewhale’s president, said she believes that a huge part of sketch comedy success is when performers share a close bond.

“It’s really hard to have a more concise and complete show if you have two teams that are close but who aren’t really intermingled with one another,” Moore said. “That completely shows on stage. You can 100 percent tell if people have that chemistry on stage and it’s not left on stage. You can tell if those people are friends and having fun, and that’s a huge part of having a successful show.”

The process of creating the sketch comedy productions entails six steps: brainstorming, writing, revising, structuring, casting and rehearsing. Every single person writes, revises and acts in a sketch. For the first two weeks of the semester, the members brainstorm.

“We roundtable ideas and hash out what we think could work and what we think is best left off the stage and in people’s imaginations,” Moore said.

Some people work individually and others work on sketches in pairs or larger groups to write scripts, which takes a month. Then editing workshops begin, followed by finalization of what will be in the show.

Once the organization chooses the sketches, directors assign acting roles. The rest of the time before performances is spent practicing.

Battlewhale Vice President and sophomore Josh Ejnes said many changes are made during these rehearsals.

“When we see how one person plays a character, we might make them do it a different way,” Ejnes said. “Over the few months between when the sketches are written and the final performances, there are a lot of changes we do mainly through performing over and over again until we’re almost sick of them.”

It takes an entire semester to coordinate the one weekend of shows that the organization puts on at the end of each semester. Moore said she believes that the time the team takes to create the show reflects in the quality of the final product.

“With sketch, I think you just get a more complete show,” Moore said. “You have more time to hash out the humor and make it more thematically set. Most of the time it’s successful, and with the other (improv) comedy groups, it’s a hit or miss. With sketch, you normally have a pretty consistent and good show.”

Battlewhale members enjoy bringing laughter to their audiences at a critical time of the semester.

“I think it brings a huge element of stress relief, especially when our shows end up falling at the end of the semester when everybody is stressed out of their minds and they all have finals in a couple of weeks, and everyone has those last-minute projects they have to get done,” Moore said. “We help people laugh and let go at least for a couple nights.”

Next semester, Battlewhale members plan to focus more on marketing and creating video sketches in addition to shaping its show for the spring semester. The group wants to inspire people who want to be involved with comedy.

“We want to be a place where people who want to do sketch comedy feel like they could come and learn, like an open environment,” Ejnes said.

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