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Augustana Improv Group Celebrates 10th Anniversary

SIOUX FALLS - Brand Name Improv (BNi), Augustana’s comic improvisation troupe, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Formed in 2000 by Augustana Theatre professor Dr. Julia Bennett, BNi offers quality, audience friendly performance at the College and in the region as well as coursework, workshops, and celebrations of the art and craft of improvisation.

BNi is the result of Dr. Bennett’s interest in exploring and teaching spontaneous and audience-interactive performance. Those early explorations have since led to hundreds of young performers “learning, loving and working in the tradition of Chicago-style improvisation.”

Currently, BNi offers regular performance on Augustana’s campus. Local partners like Cool Beans! Coffee, Boss’ Pizza, and Zandbroz Variety have offered off-campus performance venues as well.

Sophomore Nate Hults from Glencoe, Minn., a BNi member, says “Our goal is to give students a chance to build their craft as improvisers. Whether or not you pursue this profession after college, improv is just a great way to have fun and to improve as a performer. Plus, we get Augie’s name out there.”

A popular campus fixture, BNi has also performed for numerous corporate, educational, and civic events over the past decade. Operating as a performance collective, members serve on a board and share administration and management duties. They are responsible for bookings, team success, and direction.

In many ways, BNi serves as an incubator for entrepreneurial skills. “In BNi, I get to perform; help to organize the team, manage bookings and work with my teammates on making the company better,” said senior Will Dietzler from Fargo, N.D. “It’s a great preparation for the life of a working artist and entrepreneur.”

More than just making people laugh, Dr. Bennett is convinced that mprove is a very serious business. “Improvisation is now taught in contexts like corporate America, social service organizations, and schools at every level. As I tell my students, mprove is for everyone and it’s everywhere. The basic precepts of mprove – to accept what is offered, to add the gift of information, to work collaboratively – are applicable in any context. Improv is not about being funny, it’s about connecting. Funny just happens to be mprove’s great by-product.”

She is so convinced, that her current research is focused on identifying the importance of improvisation in the liberal arts experience. Her “Improv for Everyone” class typically fills to capacity; upon graduation, alumni often share the continued positive impact of their mprove and BNI experiences.

BNI has touched hundreds of students from a wide range of majors. Improvisers are actors, chemists, mathematicians, lobbyists, writers, nurses, and even American Sign Language interpreters. According to Dr. Bennett, BNI program activities serve as an incubator for cultivating broadly applicable social, intellectual, and creative skills.

“My hope is to engage students through this craft in a way that builds their assets as civic participants and individuals as well as artists,” she said. “it is, to me, all about providing a unique twist to the Augie Advantage.”

To engage Brand Name Improv for your business or social gathering, contact Nathan Hults.

For information on workshops, coaching or speaking engagements, contact Julia Bennett.

Are you a Bni alum? Join our Facebook group—BNi Augustana Alums. Share your favorite Bni memory, photo or thought about how Augie mprove is still with you today.