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Improv group adds laughs to mental health day

WORTHINGTON -- Navigating the complex world of health care can be a perplexing, frustrating experience for many, but for some it's perfect fodder for laughs.

Brand Name Improv, a group of students from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., brought their impromptu comedy to American Reformed Church Wednesday afternoon in conjunction with Mental Health Education Day. The troupe mined plenty of humor from the adverse situations faced in different ways by the health care professionals, clients and others in the audience.

"We're here to present a small series of sketches that will engage you and involve you," said Julia Bennett, director of the group and an Augustana faculty member in the theater department, as the program began.

The fun began as the quartet -- comprised of students Joe Gentzler, a theater major from Indianola, Iowa; Kiel Mutschelknaus, an art major from Brandon, S.D.; Dan Schultz, a music major from Jamestown, N.D.; and Nick Josten, an English and philosophy major from Carson City, Nev. -- mocked the amount of research they had to do on mental health for the event.

"I did some research on psychotropic medications, but I kind of think everything sounds better in an absurd accent," began Josten, who then launched into a faux-scholarly presentation given by someone who could have been a professor at England's Oxford University.

Brand Name Improv is hired to perform at events such as Wednesday's, each of which can encompass any type of topic. The group also performs on campus and has a regular spot at the Cool Beans coffeehouse in Sioux Falls.

Members did indeed have to do research pertaining to mental health care issues, a task that turned out to be eye-opening.

"We discovered that it's a very complex system that you know much more about than we do," said Bennett, who compared health care to "a maze and a forest." That analogy subsequently led to "4-3-2-1," a game where scenarios and conversations were altered as troupe members exited and entered the scene.

"Maybe following a trail of bread crumbs can get you out of the forest, but sometimes it won't," Bennett said after the sketch.

Several of the comic vignettes drew loud guffaws. Like the popular TV program "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" group members built on prior sketches and their personal traits for laughs.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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