Fifty students sat cross-legged on the floor of a mirrored room in the heart of the Drama building late Wednesday night. Ten upperclassmen stared back at them, seated behind a long wooden table. The air was hot and the atmosphere was nervous.
It wasn't a bizarre hazing ritual. It wasn't recruitment week. The university hasn't hired students to teach classes in the middle of the night. The sound in the air was not of chainsaws, but of laughter. It was the fall auditions for The Charles Darwin Experience.
The poker-faced moderators were far from the flamboyant personalities Tuesday audiences see. Instead, they were marking in their notes and coolly considering the crop of potential cast members.
While The Charles Darwin Experience performances are far from G-rated, they pride themselves on trying to steer their scenes in the classy direction when possible.
""It's funny, but it's easy,"" cast member Brad Kula said to the hopefuls about using profanity and going too far.
Many of the auditioners seemed to realize that only after they pantomimed masturbation in their scene. The current Darwins were not quick to smile and met most of the mini-performances with a polite, ""Thank you, next!"" as the only comment.
More than 50 comedy hopefuls and over 30 spectators came Wednesday to see if they had the chops to join the UA's premiere short form comedy group. The troupe, which current cast member Victoria Hochuli describes simply as ""a hell of a lot of fun,"" fills Gallagher Theatre to over capacity every Tuesday night.
""We're just a group of badasses performing for badasses who like badass things,"" said Kula as he sat outside the building, greeting hopeful student who aspire to earn the privilege of calling themselves a Darwin.
""We're looking for someone who's real,"" Kula said. ""I think as soon as you try to be something you're not, you become instantly unfunny."" As the bright-eyed comedy hopefuls completed a brief questionnaire that featured questions like, ""What do you bring to the proverbial Darwin table?"" and ""Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"" Kula described what The Charles Darwin Experience tried to accomplish.
""There is just such a guttural, instinctual reaction to laugh,"" Kula explained. ""We're looking for people who are naturally funny."" He also said, ""We don't want anyone that's too heady or pretentious.""
""It's always a surprise,"" Hotchuli said about the auditions. ""We might take one person, we might take no people, we might take everyone."" Surveying the growing crowd of over 70, Hotchuli laughed and said, ""well, not everyone.""
As for the audition participants, the common theme for them, too, seemed to be a sense of fun. When asked why they were giving up precious hours of study and sleep time, they said: ""I like making people laugh,"" ""It's a good way to express yourself,"" and ""We were looking for something to do on a Wednesday night.""
One hopeful was less shy and boldly stated the seeming consensus of the group: ""I want to be a Darwin because the Darwins are the shit!""
In the auditions themselves, not-yet-evolved Darwins were subject to various improvisation games while the current cast looked on. As Kula explained, ""We're looking for people who can develop a character, and has wit and humor.""
There were many funny moments that night. When the Darwins asked an auditioner as part of an improv game, ""Do you remember when you were president of the feminist committee?"" the quick-witted young man answered, ""Well, they needed someone to cook for.""
The group of mostly freshmen, mostly male, and mostly nervous hopefuls were eager to be funny, even when they actually weren't. The room was filled with undaunted ego and unchecked thresholds of decency in comedy, as contestants were more likely to invoke stereotypes or literally take their pants off than coax a smile out of the board of standing Darwins.
Did the Darwins find their new rhyming, guitar-playing, witty, handsome, Converse-footed star? It is difficult to say: between the guardedness of the judges and the kerfuffle of the audition setting, only the final cast list will tell. It will be a tough task: the event had just an air of the redundancy of so many people trying to be unique, of how hard it is to remember people who are trying so hard to be memorable.
Tuesday night regulars will be excited to see what diamond in the rough the Darwins have polished up to add to their jeweled crown of talent, humor and fun. That is why everyone was there until well after midnight on Wednesday night: because talent is attractive. By that standard, the Darwins are stunning, the proverbial crown jewels of free weekday entertainment.