Rutgers University and the State Theater Present SNL’s Head Writer for a Night of College-Friendly Comedy.

“I think freshmen are the coolest kids on any college campus,” began Seth Meyers on Thursday night, to a cheering crowd of mostly college students. “I hate juniors,” the Saturday Night Live head writer continued. “You’re the worst. … “Seniors, based on your enthusiasm you have not checked in on the state of the economy.”

Meyers had good reason to prepare college-friendly material because the event was co-sponsored not only by the State Theater, but also the Rutgers University Performance Association (RUPA). His material reflected the crowd, including jokes about dating, relationships, college, the economy (Greece has a “yogurt-based economy”), and politics (a second-term inauguration is like renewing your wedding vows: “Congratulations. You almost got divorced.”).

Meyers performed more than 90 minutes alone after SNL co-star, Jay Pharaoh, cancelled his appearance due to scheduling conflicts. Without a break, Meyers, wearing a familiar “Weekend Update”-type suit, delivered a standup routine of new and old material (The Euro crisis, Greek yogurt bit was previously done on SNL’s Weekend Update.) Meyers also occasionally interacted directly with the crowd, including the closing segment where he posed in mock-standup positions so that the audience could take photos and pretend they were moments from the actual routine.

RUPA, which planned the event, is a student-run programming council that provides an assortment of events throughout the school year. RUPA aims to appeal to diverse student interests. They offer film, theater, concert, art, and community events. Meyers’ appearance Thursday night was orchestrated by RUPA’s comedy and media committee.

Meyers appeared to be a good choice by RUPA, based on the audience’s reaction. He took the stage to a cheering crowd and received a standing ovation at the end of the show. Afterwards, students lingered in the lobby to actively discuss the show and take pictures with friends, and had to be asked to clear the lobby by theater staff.

Audience member, Rendell Tababan, both a Rutgers student and RUPA member, represents the event’s target audience. Asked what made him and his friends attend the show, Tababan replied “I love Seth Meyers and I love RUPA.” He first heard of the event through RUPA’s Facebook page.

RUPA is key to selecting and promoting events throughout the Rutgers Community, but Thursday’s event was co-sponsored by the State Theater, which has a partnership with the university to present events at reduced prices with the discount code LoveRU

Word of mouth and social media were key to promoting the show through the Rutgers community. Audience member and Seth Meyers fan Shawn Smith saw the event on both Facebook and Twitter. Megan Conry is one of the “regular people”/non-student attendees and heard of the event through a friend who is a student. Asked about what she expected out of the night, Conry offered “I went because I didn’t even know Seth Meyers did stand up and I wanted to see if he was good at it. … I thought the show was great and would totally recommend it.”


A Little Bit Theater, A Little Bit Improv, Hook and Eye is One of a Kind

Thirty-plus participants sit in a circle as the lights dimmed. Six actors enter from either side of the room. They carry candles and softly sing a Polish lullaby about lighting a spark, telling a story. They gather in the center of the circle, the song ends, the candles blown out. There is a brief total darkness and then a warm welcome to the group.

Thus began Hook & Eye’s second of three “Instant Play Labs”—a unique combination of solemn and quirky that set the tone for the evening and for the group. Monday marks the halfway point to the creation of an original full-length play born of traditional playwriting and improvisation.

“We’re just playing,” prompted core company member, Chad Lindsey, to the small groups tasked to read, rehearse, and perform six short plays, encouraging them to be free and take risks. Though this wasn’t new direction for the groups. Most of them were repeat participants from the first lab. They listened carefully, but knew what they were there to do and were eager to get to it.

Lindsey, 37, has a deceptively boyish and effervescent demeanor that belies the seriousness with which he approaches his work. Hook & Eye’s goals are nothing if not serious. Ultimately, they will shape and solidify material generated in their three labs into a full-length scripted production. Challenging the traditional idea of a solitary playwright working alone, Hook & Eye focuses on the process of collaboration. They are there to create.

Their mission statement, “Our task is original work, Our Process is consistently redefined, It’s go time” was on full display Monday night as the group workshopped six short plays, adding, changing, and improvising along the way.

Monday’s lab was comprised of core company members with record attendance of close to 40 additional participants. There were actors, musicians (with instruments ready to go), and directors. They ranged in age from twenties to eighties. All were asked to adopt a variety of roles and perform or direct as needed throughout the night.

Inspired by the “&” of their logo, writers wrote 5-minute plays on the theme of “and” and submitted them in advance of Monday’s lab. After a brief physical warm up, several improv games inspired by the night’s theme, and a follow-up discussion of the night’s theme and goals, six short plays were chosen and cast on the spot. Groups had an hour to rehearse. With no time to waste, they were up on their feet working quickly. Promptly after an hour, final work was presented, followed by a closing group discussion.

Monday’s lab operated under the expectation of the unexpected, for while focused on short- and long-term goals, improvisation is the heart of Hook & Eye’s work. Though participants had scripts to work with and a director to shape each piece, all were encouraged to make changes, add lines, or reinterpret or reassign  stage directions, in order to generate and create new ideas.

Chosen playwrights knew in advance to Monday’s lab that their scripts could possibly be altered in any number of ways and gamely handed their work over to be changed, adlibbed or scored by musicians who improvised musical scores on the spot for each piece.

Hook & Eye achieves this rare kind of creative fluidity because their participants are “multidisciplinary,” asserts core member Emily Kunkel, herself a classically trained actor, equally comfortable with Shakespeare or sketch comedy. Actors are also writers, writers are also directors, and directors might be asked to be in a piece—even the company photographer put down his camera and joined in the opening improv warm-up.

Kristen Duffy, a second-time participant, acted in the first lab, but supervised the food and wine station this time around. “I guess I am an actor/production assistant,” says Duffy while slicing homemade bread. “I help with whatever needs to be done for their events. I knew there would be a free-spirited vibe to the evening, that I might need to help out in ways I hadn’t anticipated.”

Hook & Eye has weekly company meetings and plans to have their third Instant Lab installment in the coming months, planning for their summer retreat to put it all together in a long-form, scripted, performance piece. They don’t know exactly what their end result will be, but sometimes the important thing is not where you end up, but how you get there.