Free to be weird – Plymouth Review

Free to be weird – Plymouth Review

MEET THE JOLLY PRANKSTERS – Front row, left to right: Hannah Wettstein, Lauren Bunyea, Kieran DeRidder, Natalie Johnson and Coach Allison Schwartz. Center: Ivan Hyer, Rian Shroeder, Julian Arbuckle, Madison White, Brooklyn Bersch, Evan Halseth and Ollie Boxrucker. Back: Wolfi Zellmer, Harper Ploeckman, Bree Bunyea, Serena Annis, Zoey Licht and Anthony Jovanovich. –Photo by PHS Yearbook staff

Coach Allison Schwartz likes to call Plymouth’s Jolly Pranksters her little bunch of weirdos.

“It’s just for kids who want to be silly and goofy and just want to put a little bit more structure in there and perform,” she said.

The Jolly Pranksters, the high school comedy team performance featuring improv games performed by students, with audience participation highly encouraged and an integral part of the show, will air next March 2 at 7:00 p.m. at the PHS to stand on the stage.

It’s free and open to the public.

The best thing about the group, Schwartz says, is that it gives students the opportunity to be silly without fear of judgment.

“It’s huge for a teenager,” said the fifth-year coach. “I feel like teenagers can be very judgmental. Or even when they’re not, they’re constantly afraid that someone will judge them, and this group is where they get applause and laughter for being their weird selves. And it’s wonderful.”

Schwartz grew up in West Bend and attended Nekoosa High School.

JOLLY PRANKSTERS MEMBERS Lauren Bunyea (left) and Wolfi Zellmer do an impromptu comedy play.  The audience encourages the actors to develop into comedic plays.  –Photo by PHS Yearbook staff

JOLLY PRANKSTERS MEMBERS Lauren Bunyea (left) and Wolfi Zellmer do an impromptu comedy play. The audience encourages the actors to develop into comedic plays. –Photo by PHS Yearbook staff

Her first year teaching English in Plymouth was also Janet Newton’s last as coach of the Jolly Pranksters, so Schwartz’s department head alerted her to the opening.

“He said, ‘Hey, you’re funny, do you want to be the improv comedy coach?’ said Schwartz. “I said ‘I think,’ and I did. I’m nowhere near as good as the kids. I never got involved in theater, not even in high school. The only thing I have to do with drama is teaching Shakespeare.”

Schwartz admits that she had no idea the Jolly Pranksters was a thing when she started, and all she knew was impromptu comedy because of the TV show “Whose Line is it Whatever?”

Seniors Natalie Johnson and Lauren Bunyea are completing their fourth year in the program after learning about it in middle school.

“What really started to interest me was at our eighth grade fair, they had a booth about the Jolly Pranksters, so I was curious about that,” Bunyea said. “It was about making really fun games and doing fun shows that they had to do. I think that’s what made me want to join the group in the first place.”

Johnson recalls attending Jolly Pranksters shows before she was in high school.

“It was an opportunity to watch people perform and I really liked it,” she said. “It looked like something really, really fun. It looked like a fun group of people, and I wanted to be a part of it in high school.”

There are 20 Jolly Pranksters this year and no cuts will be made at the start of the year.

They put on four shows throughout the school year and practice once a week, and they even host private events.

According to Schwartz, shows begin with head-to-head warm-ups, in which two students take the stage and ask the audience for suggestions. For example, they may need to name their favorite household chores.

If it is engaging, the two students will build a scene or imitate a plot based on it and try to make it as funny as possible. Then they move into more complex scenes, like those of a play.

“Everything is fine on site; There’s really no way to prepare because we don’t know what the audience is going to give us,” Schwartz said.

That’s why Johnson still gets a little nervous before shows.

“Just because it’s mostly things that we spontaneously invent,” she said. “You’re not quite sure what’s going to happen, but high school has definitely given me more confidence that no matter what we put out, it’s going to be a good show. I just want to go out and have fun, maybe make some people laugh.”

And that laugh is just one of the things Bunyea will miss after graduation.

“I’ve been able to form really strong bonds with these people during my years in this group,” she said. “We’ve had so much fun together over the last four years.”

To learn more, visit or call the school office at (920) 893-6911.

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