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University of North Texas students (from left) Alex Wiggins, Tierney Conley, Christian Campbell, Nathan Lawrence and Sean Byrne make up the UNT Improv comedy troupe Sparky. The group is headed to Chicago next month to compete in the 11th annual national College Improv Tournament.EXPAND
University of North Texas students (from left) Alex Wiggins, Tierney Conley, Christian Campbell, Nathan Lawrence and Sean Byrne make up the UNT Improv comedy troupe Sparky. The group is headed to Chicago next month to compete in the 11th annual national College Improv Tournament.
courtesy Sparky

UNT Improv Troupe Sparky Earns a Spot in the Nationals by Poking Fun at Reality TV

This year marks the final performance of the University of North Texas comedy improv troupe Sparky, but it'll go out in a big way. The troupe will perform in a national improv tournament.

The comedy troupe consisting of UNT students Sean Byrne, Alex Wiggins, Tierney Conley, Christian Campbell and Nathan Lawrence will compete against 11 other teams March 3 in the 11th annual College Improv Tournament in Chicago. This is the group's second trip to the national tournament and the fourth time that a team from UNT Improv has made it all the way to the finals.

"We went into it just saying that we're going to be relaxed and weren't there to win as much as we were to just have fun," Wiggins says. "While we had worked to go there for a year, and some of us for two years, it wasn't a big deal. We just went to have fun, and if we won, great, and if not, we were still going to have fun."

Sparky has been performing as a troupe through the UNT Improv program for the past two years. Sparky performs an original format that plays with the conventions of reality television and film documentaries to create characters and scenes.

"When we started, we thought of the idea of an improvised reality TV show," Wiggins says. "When the characters do their asides and say things like, 'This is Mark Johnson, and he's a doctor,' we just took that idea and applied to the format."

Each show opens with the performers painting a scene of a nongeographic location taken from an audience suggestion, and each performer who walks gets a name from fellow performers. The relationships and scenarios play out in the setting, and by the end of the show, the audience learns about the characters' fates with a short exposition bio much like the end of the Rob Reiner film Stand By Me.

"Since we name a lot of our characters on the spot, especially with our group, we come up with some really stupid, names and that's really part of the fun of it," Wiggins says. "Off the top of it, one person was named SilvestrioGallantini, and he was a kind of really tough, world-champion Pac-Man player, and I think Sean named him because he sounded like a mobster. The character said, 'You want to come into my domain?' and Sean said that was the most Italian thing he could think of."

The group won its spot in the national tournament in a preliminary show last month at the Station Theatre in Houston. Byrne says the group went to the tournament to be competitive, but its main focus in any show is to just have fun.

"We did want to win to be honest, especially since as a troupe, we have done it once before, and Alex and Tierney were in a troupe, and they did it once before," he says. "The goal is always to have fun, so the concept of a competition for improv is a slightly alien conceptm but we're just excited to go to Chicago."

The national competition will also be the group's final performance; Conley, Wiggins and Lawrence have graduated from UNT. So the group will get a final performance, and win or lose, it'll get to take a memorable trip together before the members say their goodbyes.

"We're more excited about the chance to go to Chicago," Conley says. "It's cool to go to nationals and see other great performers and put on a great show ourselves, but I think we're even more excited just with the idea of all of us in Chicago and having a good time."

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