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Wednesday February 8th

How To Improvise A Punchline

Daylong Comedic Performance Benefits IFC.

From 10 p.m. Friday until 10 p.m. Saturday the Chapel Hill Players hosted the first annual 24 Live! -- a 24-hour marathon event of sketch comedy.

The show was an opportunity for improv actors to get together and do what they do best -- make people laugh.

Although the members of CHiPs hosted the event, they were only a portion of the plethora of actors present on stage. Ben Cochran, a senior CHiPs member, was one of three CHiPs actors who took part in the show. For him, working with so many people on stage for the first time was easy.

"We just got in sync really quickly because we couldn't relate to anybody else on the planet," he said.

Ward, the man behind the event, started CHiPs when he was a freshman at UNC. In his four years at Chapel Hill, he built up the comedy troupe to campuswide recognition. After graduation, Ward moved to Chicago, where he started another group, called Dirty South Improv, or DSI. As much as he enjoys working in Chicago, however, Chapel Hill is still his home.

"I am still most passionate about Chapel Hill," he said.

Ward has continued to direct CHiPs since his graduation. Once a year, CHiPs travels to Chicago to work with Ward and to perform. When Ward got the idea for an improv marathon, there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted CHiPs to be a part of it.

He got the idea after seeing a 24-hour marathon put on by Second City Chicago. Second City has long been a major stepping stone for "Saturday Night Live," with about 30 percent of the "SNL" cast coming from Second City. For Ward, the event was incredibly influential.

"I was only present for the last five hours of the show," he said. "I felt like I helped out just by being in the audience."

Immediately after the show, Ward decided he wanted to do something similar in Chapel Hill. This idea turned into a five-month project, with Ward working as much as 40 hours a week to make it happen.

Ward decided to make the event a fund-raiser, and he chose the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, or IFC, due to its efforts to curb homeless problems in Chapel Hill.

When he approached Erik Cassily, the special projects coordinator for IFC, Cassily was immediately interested.

"I believed that his would be a great way to get the word out to the college population that homelessness does exist in Chapel Hill," he said.

With the support of the IFC, Ward was given the green light to assemble a cast for the event.

He first looked towards CHiPs and took three members for his core cast. Four actors from Chicago closed out the seven-member group, which was to remain on stage throughout the 24-hour period.

In addition to the core cast, many other actors came for some action as well -- including several from Raleigh and Wilmington and even two of Ward's friends from Canada who drove down for the event.

It was these members who made the show possible for the core cast.

"Having the people there on rotation, watching for an hour and then acting for an hour, was great," Ward said. "They were able to take the stage during the times the core cast simply didn't have the energy to."

Although only three CHiPs member were in the core cast, every member took part, either on stage or behind the scenes. All of the advertising and promotion was CHiPs' doing, and the event could not have worked without them.

For those involved, the show was a fun learning experience. Cochran commented on the overall experience he had.

"It was an incredible learning experience," he said. "Producing a 24-hour event was really educational and inspiring for what I want to do."

For the actors, the event had its ups and downs.

They all agreed that the beginning and the end of the show were the most energetic. Cochran commented on the effects of the sleep deprivation.

"About eight hours into the show, the logical thinking aspect of my mind completely shut down," Cochran said. "I was left with just the reactive part of my brain."

For Ward, the highlight of the show was doing a sketch with Miranda, an 8-year-old audience member.

Her mom came up to Ward after the show and told him that he had made Miranda's day.

"Doing the sketch with Miranda made the last hour the greatest in the world," Ward said.

By the end of the show, only three of the core actors actually made it through the entire 24 hours. But other actors outside of the core cast stepped in and made it for the 24-hour period.

Overall, Ward was happy with the end result of the performance. Despite a lower attendance than he had hoped for, the show raised $2,070 for the IFC. On a personal level, Ward was able to prove to himself that it is possible to do improv for a grueling 24 hours.

"Was it fresh from start to finish?" Ward said. "Probably not. Was it intense from start to finish? Yes."

And as for the future of the event, Ward plans to make his dream an annual act.

"Next September, it will happen again."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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