One of the most common questions I get asked about being a member of Divine Comedy is, “How do you do it?” The second question is, “Do you have to put stage makeup on?” I won’t be answering that question in this article, but I will describe the process of creating and performing in a show.
Divine Comedy is a club at BYU that writes and performs sketch comedy. Every show has 10-12 shorter sketches followed by a 15-minute headlining sketch. A sketch is a short scene where actors follow a written, comical script. Our sketches can be about anything, but they’re all purposefully written to make the audience smile and laugh. Divine Comedy was founded in 1994, and students have been consistently creating shows ever since.
Every member of Divine Comedy is a student at BYU, and all of our sketches are written in-house. Our cast and crew vary in size, but right now we have 12 cast members and 6 crew members. The cast members are the writers, actors, and directors. The crew members focus on lighting, sound, props, and any other visual or audial effects needed to create the perfect show. Cast members must audition to join, but you only need to audition once for your entire time at BYU. Crew members don’t need to audition, but need to be prepared to work hard as well.
Divine Comedy produces 2-3 shows per semester. There are 6 basic stages in creating a show: Writing, pitching, voting, practicing, advertising, and performing. This process takes place over 4-5 weeks. Figure 1 shows a shortened version of the show cycle.
All Divine Comedians are expected to write sketches that could be used in a show. Writing a sketch involves coming up with a joke and writing a script based on that joke. Sketch writing looks different for everyone. Most cast members keep a list of funny jokes and situations they can think of. When it comes time to write a sketch, the writer bases the script on one of those. Cast members are constantly writing new scripts whenever they get the chance. Figure 2 shows a few of my first sketch ideas that I wrote down in my notebook.
Each show cycle begins with 2 weeks of pitching. Pitching is when we present our sketch and headliner ideas to the rest of the cast. Everyone reads through your script together and gives feedback and joke ideas to the writer. To pitch a sketch, your script must be completely written. To pitch a headliner, you need to create a poster and general plot synopsis. Headliners are usually parodies of trending movies or tv shows. Figure 3 is an example of one of my headliner pitches for our February 2023 show.
After 2 weeks of pitching, we vote on the sketches we want to bring to our show. Each cast member gets 12 votes. There are roughly 25-40 sketches pitched per show cycle. We usually narrow the list down to 14 sketches. Once we’ve determined by majority vote which sketches we’re taking, the writers of those sketches become directors and must cast their roles. We also vote on which headliner we want to do. The person who pitched the winning headliner recruits a team to help them write it.
Two weeks before opening night, we begin to choreograph, memorize, and rehearse our sketches. Our goal is to be completely memorized by the week of the show. We have a tech rehearsal show the Wednesday before opening night. We use this show to get feedback and fine-tune our final show. We’ll usually get rid of at least 2 sketches.
Two weeks before opening night, we also begin to advertise. All cast members are required to help distribute fliers and spread the word. We print off posters to display on campus too. There is also a booth in the Wilkinson Student Center where distribute flyers. We print off about 2000 3” by 5” fliers, 100 8” by 11” posters, and 3 3’ by 5’ posters.
Every show cycle ends with a 7 and 9 pm performance on Friday and Saturday. The shows last about 75 minutes long. In between sketches, we try to keep the energy up by throwing glowsticks into the crowd, and by having a dance party. We perform in a lecture hall in the Tanner building on campus. We all use stage microphones as well. As an audience member, you can come ready to laugh and have a great time.
After one show cycle ends, we immediately start getting ready for the next show. Pitching starts up again within a week. It’s a tiring process, but we love what we do. Every Divine Comedian, cast or crew, works to bring light into the lives of our audience members. That’s what makes it divine.
- Aaron Harris