Grad program manager finds outlet through improv

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As a child growing up in the mid-1990s, Beth Dutridge-Corp found a love of comedy.

Her parents introduced her to “Saturday Night Live,” and she came to admire the genius and comedic timing of standout cast members Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

She became obsessed with other sketch comedy shows as well, including “The State,” “Kids in the Hall” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

“All those amazing sketch comedy shows that are adults being silly in this nonsensical way was really great,” said Dutridge-Corp, an LSA graduate education program manager.

In 2014, Dutridge-Corp finished a graduate program and started her position at U-M. Transitioning from life as a full-time student to a working professional gave her time to explore outside interests.

Beth Dutridge-Corp, an LSA graduate education program manager, performs as Carol, a craft-loving character she created for the “Mr. Tasty: Flavor of the Month” independent sketch show at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti. (Photo courtesy of Beth Dutridge-Corp)
Beth Dutridge-Corp, an LSA graduate education program manager, performs as Carol, a craft-loving character she created for the “Mr. Tasty: Flavor of the Month” independent sketch show at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti. (Photo courtesy of Beth Dutridge-Corp)

“I was trying to make a switch from what I had been doing in grad school for seven years and kind of figure out: What are my hobbies? What do I want to do for fun?” she said.

A year after joining U-M, she saw an improvisational comedy show at the Go! Comedy Improv Theatre in Ferndale that sparked an old interest.

“There was an improv team at my undergrad institution in Ohio, but I never had the guts and never had the courage to actually do it,” she said.

She decided to enroll in improv classes at the Ann Arbor Pointless Brewery & Theatre. Throughout the first few lessons, she stayed in the background, too nervous to step forward and join the improvised scenes. But she gradually grew more comfortable and realized how much she loved performing.

“When I first started, I was horrified,” Dutridge-Corp said. “I have social anxiety, and I think a lot of people that I meet through improv have issues with anxiety as well. … We spend so much time in day-to-day life really in our head and worried about what people are saying or thinking. It’s weird that in improv, in the moment, you’re not thinking about that. And so, for a lot of people, I think improv kind of helps get you out of your head.”

After two years, Dutridge-Corp graduated the improv program with a newfound confidence and a group of close friends. She continued to seek out opportunities to take comedy workshops and perform.

Following encouragement from friends, she branched out from improv and started writing comedy sketches. From 2018-19, Dutridge-Corp and a group of friends wrote, directed, produced and starred in a monthly independent sketch show at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti.

“It’s something fun, something silly,” she said. “I feel like as adults, we forget how to play and how to kind of let go and have fun.”

Dutridge-Corp said her favorite experience was a workshop she took from Kevin McDonald, a member of “Kids in the Hall.” In addition to sketch and improv shows, she now also enjoys listening to comedy podcasts like :Comedy Bang, Bang” and “The Neighborhood Listen.”

When the pandemic shut down theaters, comedy classes and workshops transitioned to virtual formats. Dutridge-Corp had the opportunity to connect with fellow improv and comedy enthusiasts from across the country as she took online courses in sketch character building and Armando-style improv, which involves scenes based on audience suggestions.

She also stayed close to her comedy roots and took online courses with the Pointless Theatre & Brewery. With friends from this group, Dutridge-Corp created a free platform to host online improv shows and ask troops to come perform online. They named the group Slip Stone Nights, an anagram of Pointless.

“It was a way to connect people who were kind of feeling that loss of community through the pandemic,” she said. “Improv — definitely in the Ann Arbor area and I think in most areas — is all about community and people connecting.”

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Much to Dutridge-Corp’s dismay, Pointless Brewery & Theatre didn’t make it through the pandemic and closed in March 2021. Nevertheless, she and her group of friends united to pursue other opportunities in the area.

Later that year, they became involved with the programming committee at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. While the theater has featured an improv team for years, Dutridge-Corp helped create weekly “improv jams” for anyone interested in performing. Over the summer, she was elected to the AACT’s board of directors, where she serves as treasurer.

As the pandemic lockdowns lifted, Dutridge-Corp shifted her focus from performing onstage to hosting workshops and conference presentations where she incorporates elements of performance.

Throughout the past few years, she has given presentations about incorporating improv into the workplace at U-M’s Student Life Professional Development Conference and at the University of Michigan Advising Symposium with the advising council. She also delivered a presentation at the LSA Kessler Scholars program on how first-generation students can use improv to navigate college.

Dutridge-Corp is currently writing a sketch that will be performed at a variety show hosted by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre at the end of December. She hopes those who attend will be inspired to give improv a try and branch outside their comfort zone.

“We all have that fear of embarrassment, but improv is a good place if you want to perform and also a great place if you want community,” she said. “I would encourage anyone who’s interested: find a workshop, find a class, attend a jam. I’d say just don’t be afraid to do it.”

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