Spruce is Growing and Branching Out One Jam at a Time
May 3, 2021 | By Drefnie Limprevil
Spruce commits to creating a community for marginalized gender identities in the improv world and having some laughs along the way.
Spruce, a spin-off of the No Jokes comedic improv troupe, seeks to create a "comedy community" for women, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming members of the Northeastern community who are interested in improv. It serves as a more inclusive continuation of LadyProv, which originally served as a group for women in improv. Similar to No Jokes, which hosts weekly open jams alongside performances with a dedicated performance troupe, the group holds open jams for members to flex their comedy skills and integrates speakers to provide more insight into the improv and comedy world.
Photos Courtesy of Spruce
Riley Cohen, a third-year Theatre and Media & Screen Studies combined major, is the group’s current president and oversaw the group’s name change while also facilitating its new focus. "Once we pivoted our focus, we had to find a new name,” Cohen said. “We came up with a new name in April, Spruce, which reminded us of a tree branching out." LadyProv was created as a response to the potentially intimidating space that a male-dominated improv troupe can create for members. As the group underwent a leadership change, Cohen saw the importance of using inclusive language to foster a safe space for people of underrepresented gender identities to further explore their interest in improv. The group began transitioning in early 2020, with Cohen reimagining ways to create a more inclusive environment.
Cohen is not only navigating fostering a supportive community but is also learning how to do so during the pandemic. As the entire country moved into the virtual world, so did the improv community at Northeastern, with shows and jams occurring online. Spruce has been no exception — holding monthly online jams open for anyone of any experience level to join.
They have also hosted speakers that provide greater insight into the broader comedy world. Such guests have included Amanda Xeller, involved with the Moxie Sketch Lab, an opportunity at the Magnet Theatre in New York City for women, trans, and non-binary comedians interested in sketchwriting and performing, as well as Meredith Dietz, a Northeastern alum who has worked at the satirical newspaper The Onion and is a part of the comedy circuit.
Tools such as online group chats and Zoom meetings have also allowed members to engage with the group. One member, Mitra Sharif, a third-year Communications major, speaks to the sense of community the organization has provided during the past few months. After being introduced to the group while being a part of No Jokes, she cites the community the group provides, describing jams similar to hanging out with friends.
"The pandemic puts your mind on so many things, [Spruce] provides a space to put your mind to creativity, laughing, and more positive things,” Sharif said.
She also spoke to the value of representation and visibility, with each member in the group building each other up and also allowing herself to build up her confidence in improv, sketch writing, and more.
While the group in its current form is relatively new, Cohen has big plans for Spruce. Short-term goals include expanding their reach across campus by connecting with other groups, and providing resources for members to connect them with the larger improv and comedy world.
Photos Courtesy of Spruce
The club recently partnered with Interrobang, a slam poetry group on campus, to co-host a group event. She also hopes that the group will be able to use established connections to the improv community in Boston to provide more opportunities for their members in a post-pandemic city.
Longer-term goals include inspiring improv troupes at different colleges to create inclusive spaces for their members with marginalized gender identities. Utilizing the skills they learned in fostering an online community, Cohen hopes that a Facebook-based approach to connecting with other colleges can help bring this club concept to other universities.
"My ultimate dream is a Spruce conference, with cool speakers and keynote addresses from the likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Issa Rae,” Cohen said.
In the meantime, Spruce is continuing to connect women, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming members through improv, one jam at a time.