The close-knit members of Octavarius, a rising Chicago-based comedy troupe forged by Illinois State alumni, live and die by a simple mantra: Fun is everywhere. Even at a murder scene.
After spending the past three years honing their skills, winning a weekly show at Chicago’s ComedySportz Theatre and pumping out hilarious Web shorts, the members of Octavarius are coming back to Illinois State on November 10 for a Friends of the Arts “murder mystery” fundraiser.
It’ll be familiar turf. Eight of the nine Octavarius performers are Illinois State alumni, with other former Redbirds on the behind-the-scenes crew. Several found a passion for improvisational comedy – or stoked an existing passion – through Illinois State’s Improv Mafia and Theatre of Ted, student-run groups that laid the foundation for what Octavarius has become.
Octavarius was conceived in spring 2009, during an 11-year anniversary gathering for Improv Mafia, said Keith Habersberger ’08, a School of Theatre and Dance acting alum and former Theatre of Ted host.
“It was something we all realized then, that we all had the most fun playing together,” he said.
This is Octavarius’ third year at ComedySportz, starting with a 14-week run, then a 35-week run, then the first independent troupe to get an open run there. Their weekly Sunday night show begins with 30 to 40 minutes of themed, scripted material – “Shakespeare’s Walking Dead” or “A Funkadelic Columbus Day Musical” – then 30 to 40 minutes of improv.
The group’s mantra really is “Fun is everywhere,” though the real trick is that they’re all friends, dating back to Illinois State. During their Improv Mafia days, they’d block out Thursdays strictly for hanging out, because it improved their comedy. Performing solo, such as stand-up comedy, wouldn’t be as satisfying, said acting alum Brian Wohl ’07, whose inspirations include late-night comedians and pro wrestlers.
“With improv, I could not only be the performer, but the writer, director, editor, music composer – all those things in one,” Wohl, 27, told STATEside. “It uses all of the skills I have, in one art form. And I get to collaborate with people who I find hilarious.”
Habersberger grew up in small-town Tennessee, destined for a life as a French horn player in an orchestra until he took a summer class at Second City in Chicago and fell in love with it.
“It’s just as much fun as it is to be 7 years old and play on the playground,” Habersberger said. “Except we’re all smart, so we can all do really, really good pretend.”
The line between hanging out and doing comedy is blurry for Octavarius, so they stick to a schedule and carry a strong work ethic. They meet every Monday night at the same time, even take breaks at the same time, said acting alumna Lisa Ridarelli ’10, one of Octavarius’ youngest members at age 24.
Their day jobs are varied; Ridarelli is a server, Wohl does on-camera acting in commercials, while Habersberger is producer of a national college improv tournament.
“The next step for us is to be doing comedy professionally, to take that next step to make comedy writing and performing our careers,” said Ridarelli. “That’s the ultimate goal for any performing artist.”
Their success on stage has expanded to success online, where Octavarius is competing in the crowded space of short comedic videos. Their 3-minute “Unlikely Quotes from Batman” video, strategically timed to piggyback on the release of The Dark Knight Rises in July, has hit almost 280,000 views on YouTube. (Full disclosure: This writer’s favorite is most certainly “Giant Bird in a Man Suit.” Think about it.) And as Octavarius ramps up its video production and produces Web series, a TV show or movie might be next.
But on November 10, they’ll be at Illinois State, where it all started. For Wohl, he found a place where he was able to create his own art, eventually running Theatre of Ted, as Habersberger did.
“I still got a good education by going to class, but I had an environment where I could make my own stuff,” he said.
Check out Friends of the Arts’ website for more information on upcoming events.
Ryan Denham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIDEO: Octavarius’ “Unlikely Quotes from Batman”
VIDEO: Octavarius’ “Giant Bird in a Man Suit,” from Cardboard Sword