Our Time with Smile and Nod: A Behind the Scenes Look at Developing the Story

The Idea

When we all came together to figure out which story we wanted to tackle for our first project, we came to the consensus that doing a piece on Cal Poly’s very own improv comedy team, Smile and Nod, was the clear choice. Some of the members in the group had never even heard of Smile and Nod and thought that it was a pretty cool aspect about campus that many students (and community members) don’t even know about. So with that we were on the trail for a new angle to come up with for narrowing down a story about our chosen topic. We knew that Mustang News had covered Smile and Nod in various ways before, but we wanted to try and find something new and exciting about the improv group that maybe a majority of Cal Poly students had never known about before.

Smile and Nod members at their show on Saturday night preparing for their sketch.
Smile and Nod members at their show on Saturday night preparing for their sketch.

The Start

In our group of five, Rachel Furtado and I were in charge of the public relations portion of the story. This meant hitting the ground running with developing audience engagement reports, doing background research on the group to see what else there was to cover, scheduling interviews, posting questions and starting discussions about Smile and Nod on various social media platforms and even diving into search engine optimization programs to help us narrow down key words and headlines that would best attract our audience’s attention.

Meet the Team

Kaylee Zaccone was tasked with writing the actual editorial piece about Smile and Nod. This involved going to interviews with people that Rachel and I set up for her so that she could take the jumpstart we gave her and run with it for her story.

Demi Castanon was in charge of doing the multimedia aspect for the project and coming up with a cool way to display some of the facts and information that we got from some of the team Members from Smile and Nod. Her portion is also going to be pushed to the web, so having a visual component about our topic was very important.

Finally, Amanda Fridley got to use her skills as a broadcast journalist to work the broadcast and radio portion of our story. She actually got to go to one of Smile and Nod’s rehearsals on Sunday afternoon to see what goes on behind the scenes to make the show what it is.

The Process

All in all each of us had a very set way that we were going to handle each of our portion of the project. Given that Rachel and I were both doing PR for this story, we leaned on each other for support and advice on what to do for each step of the way. It was all new to us and so any questions that we had were answered by figuring out what exactly it was that was being asked of us and reading in close detail. Setting up the interviews for each other was one of the bigger things because each of us depending on interviews and communication to get our pieces done. With that being said there were no arguments or drama between any of us in part because we knew that all of us were working toward one common goal. There was a mutual respect and understanding for everyone’s individual part in the group, which made working in our group a very cohesive process.

The Takeaways

For me, personally, I had a really good time with this project. I got to use Reddit for the first time and post a question in the forum, which I thought was pretty cool. Being able to post on social made the project seem a little more real, as well. Engaging with various audiences and posting questions (even though there weren’t that many responses) was still something that I can take into the professional world and use as a great tool for engaging with the public. I also was bale to sit down and have a pretty long talk with one of Smile and Nod’s veteran members, Sasha Smolgovsky, about some of the cool things that Smile and Nod gets to do that not many people realize.

“If people in the community knew that there was a team nearby that does comedy in Scotland at an international festival, then I think they would be more interested in seeing it as opposed to [thinking] ‘it’s just a college thing’” Smolgovsky said.

Sasha Smolgovsky at the Smile and Nod show on Saturday night.
Sasha Smolgovsky at the Smile and Nod show on Saturday night.

I think this is a great point to be made because I certainly didn’t know that they got to do awesome things like that and I’m not sure how many other people do either. It makes them seem more legit when it comes to performing and getting their name out there for people to come to their shows.

Team Takeaways and Perspectives

Demi, who went to the show on Saturday night to get images for her multimedia section was surprised at how entertaining the group actually was when she saw them in person.

“It was more funny than I thought it would be. I didn’t know that the audience also had a say in what they performing in cause it really is improv” Castanon said.

One of the main things that Kaylee wanted to do with her editorial piece was separate it from previous pieces that were written about Smile and Nod in the past.

“The other [Mustang News article] was just kind of an overview of what they are now and so we’re going to talk a little bit more about what they do outside, like giving back and working with Safer and also explaining how the group started” Zaccone said.

Having some previous background knowledge in comedy groups and possessing some great broadcast skills, Amanda wanted to change it up a little bit and do something a little bit different for her piece.

“I wanted to do a more fun interview just because it is a comedy group. I didn’t want to do just a clean-cut broadcast-style interview. I wanted to get more involved and actually have me talking with people” Fridley said.

Rachel and I both agreed that the PR portion of the project was a little difficult to begin with, but once we knew what we had to do everything was fine.

“I was really stressed out at first cause I had no idea what I needed to do and then meeting up with the members in such a short amount of time was hard, but I managed to meet with them and interview them for a little bit” Furtado said.

Team Smile and Team Nod getting ready to face off in their skit at Saturday night's show.
Team Smile and Team Nod getting ready to face off in their skit at Saturday night’s show.