Math Plus Improv Equals the Perfect Mix for Austin Barringer ’19

Austin Barringer (center) with fellow CUP members Robert Stodola (left) and Jonathan Clarke (right), in costume for the Halloween show.

Austin Barringer ’19, a math major from Danville, KY, brings something different to the table when it comes to Rhodes College’s improvisational comedy troupe, Contents Under Pressure (CUP). Out of the 14 students in CUP, he’s the only one pursuing a STEM major.

While he knew he wanted to enter the STEM field, Barringer didn’t initially intend to major in math. “When I came to Rhodes, I was pretty sure I was going to be a physics major. Then, I took my first physics class and, ironically, I decided I didn’t want to major in physics because I didn’t want to do the math.” But it turned out it wasn’t math that was the problem, it was physics. Upon taking a class in economics, he found that he actually enjoyed doing the math, and started to take more math classes that he found interesting. One class led to another, and now Barringer is set to graduate with a double major in both math and economics.

Although he came to Rhodes knowing he had a passion for STEM subjects, he didn’t realize he would shortly discover a love for improv comedy. “I did speech and debate in high school, but never any improv,” says Barringer. However, that didn’t deter him from auditioning for CUP during first-year Welcome Week. “I didn’t even think twice about auditioning, since Rhodes makes it possible for you to try out so many things.” Since then, he has found CUP to be very rewarding. “CUP has made me a lot more comfortable about myself. To be in improv, you have to be kind of goofy, which is a side of myself that I was initially afraid to let out. But CUP instantly gave me this group of people who always have my back, and who accept and praise my goofy side, which made the transition to Rhodes a lot easier.”

CUP performs about once a month to an audience of roughly two hundred people, and all the shows are free. The group meets weekly to practice improvisational games and hone their skills, but during shows they ask for suggestions from the audience, so each performer has no clue what to expect. “One rule of improv is to say ‘yes . . .  and,’ ” says Barringer. “What that means, is to take what has been given to you, say yes to it, and then build on top of it by simply putting yourself out there and going for it.” He’s followed this philosophy in other areas during his time at Rhodes, also. Along with CUP, Barringer is involved in the Rhodes Activities Board, Lecture Board, Rhodes Diplomats, and Rhodes Ambassadors, is a researcher for the mathematics department, and has an on-campus job as the economics/business departmental assistant.

Barringer encourages anyone who might be interested in trying out improv to give it a shot, and not be discouraged if they’ve never done it before. “If you’re interested in any combination of fields—I think it’s true about all the organizations on campus, but especially true for CUP–you can mix anything you want to mix. I don’t think being a STEM person, or a humanities person, or a math person, or a theater person, or whatever—I don’t think those labels even exist at Rhodes.”

By John Mark Stodola ’19