Communications and Marketing Office student writer Alejandro Sosa Hernandez ’26 auditioned for and was chosen as a member of Hamilton’s improv group Yodapez. He tells here about his creative quest.
This was the first improv game I played during auditions. It involved all players forming a circle, with one person in the center who must respond to random questions posed by the others. These questions can be literally anything, no matter how absurd, contextless, or nonsensical.
The Yodapez improv group has been a popular club on campus ever since it was started in the ’90s. Its name is a portmanteau of “Yoda” (like the Star Wars character) and “Pez” (as in Pez candy) and actually had a Yoda Pez dispenser as its mascot. Humor is paramount for Yodapez, and at the beginning of each semester, the group holds auditions to determine who will become its newest “Pezzers.”
I don’t remember what other games Yodapez had us auditioners do, but I do remember the tail end of it. We all took turns doing two-person improv scenes based on a random prompt given to us by one of the current Pezzers.
The first scene I did was with Jessica Elie ’26, who also lived in my residence hall. Our prompt was “high school sweethearts.” We came with two characters on the precipice of high school graduation, reminiscing about their best moments as a couple by gazing at framed photographs on the wall of one of their parents’ houses. (“Oh, remember that time we did the Cinnamon Challenge and you had to go to the ER?” I said.)
The second was with Peter Hinkle ’26, and although I don’t remember the prompt we were given, I do remember him nudging me and asking me via gestures if I wanted to go up and do a scene with him just as the current one had been wrapping up. I said yes.
The next time I saw Jessica and Peter was at callbacks. We ended up as the only three auditioners selected as the newest Pezzers.
Weeks later, I would be getting up from dinner with my orientation group, telling them, “Sorry, I’ve got to go. Yodapez practice is in 10 minutes.” A friend asked, “What do you mean, ‘practice?’ It’s improv! Don’t you make it all up on the spot?” Hers was a valid question, and one I likely would’ve asked myself prior to auditioning. While the content of Yodapez shows is invented with no prior preparation, there are skills that go into improvisation that can absolutely be learned and exercised outside of performances simply by doing them over and over again. Our first few practice sessions were all about learning the basics of improv, what makes a scene funny and interesting, the difference between “short-form improv” and “long-form improv,” etc.
Twice a week, I found myself entranced by this group of upperclassmen who knew this improv thing like the backs of their hands, who were able to make decisions about when to stop and end a scene, how to keep a scene going, and how to make us all laugh like it was simply second nature. These individuals appeared to me like seasoned veterans in the art of comedy. You can imagine my jarring shock when I realized that these sophomores, juniors, and seniors had to be first-year students once.
Feeling confident in my improv abilities would take less time than I had expected but more time than I had hoped. Our first show was in September, hardly a month after the beginning of classes. It was a rollercoaster ride that ended in a surprisingly good spot, and I was excited to perform again. Our next show would be at Halloween, and then we’d have another just before Thanksgiving break.
In our first show, we did short-form improv games with only a handful of members at a time before moving on to long-form improv, which involved all of us taking turns doing short two- or three-person scenes until we built a world and some kind of narrative. I decided to take charge of the frivolous gags that served more to make you smile than to advance any kind of plot.
Two other Pezzers — Maggie McDow ’23 and Patrick Fleischer ’23 — set up a scene that involved their characters relaxing by a poolside, talking of a giant worm made of Jell-O. I decided to get on the floor and slither into the scene as the Jell-O worm. During our final scene, which tends to be chaotic and bring back all the running jokes and characters found throughout the show, Maggie’s character claimed never to have seen a Jell-O worm in her life. I slithered back into the scene and yelled, “She’s lying!” It was my first successful callback to a previous joke, and it felt thrilling to be able to stop doubting myself and overthinking what is and isn’t a good idea. As it turns out, trusting my own instincts about callbacks and one-liners can pay off.
At every one of these shows I’ve seen a familiar face in the audience. It’s difficult to describe how much the ability to make someone I care about laugh means to me. Seeing them in their seats, laughing and having a good time, is always the best part of any show. Furthermore, thanks to Yodapez, I’m now lucky enough to have a larger group of people to whom that applies — Yodapez was the most effective extracurricular group at helping me get to know more people in the College community.
Before coming to campus, I hardly believed myself to be funny, let alone capable of getting on a stage and being the center of attention. But Hamilton has ways of surprising you. Thanks to a group of upperclassmen who decided to believe in me, I now believe in myself far more than I did when I arrived — and this has extended to other areas, as well. For the first time, I’m taking an introductory theatre class and getting involved with stage performances simply because I’ve met people here — other first-year students, upperclassmen, even professors — who trust me with a microphone and spotlight.
I’m now proud to say that as long as there’s a stage to be conquered, I will find a way to get on it. Already in my first semester, Yodapez has taught me that.
Hamilton’s campus operates like a small city, but it has the feel of a close neighborhood.