A natural performer and a veteran of many theater productions, Chase Kazmierkoski loves to be at center stage.
Not surprisingly, the Peshtigo native jumped right into theater classes when he came to UW-Eau Claire as a freshman.
However, a funny thing happened on his way to declaring theater as his major.
“I've always loved scripted stage performing,” says Chase. “But when I came to UWEC, I saw just how passionate everyone was in the theater department. I realized that I just did it for fun and these people are passionate about it.
“So I looked at my skill set — I am comfortable talking in front of people, quick witted and creative. I brainstormed some possible jobs that I could excel in with those skills. I finally came to marketing. I figured that if I could entertain, I could probably sell as well.”
As he prepares to graduate in December with a degree in marketing, he knows he made the right choice in academic programs, says Chase, noting that marketing has “dashes of so many different majors,” providing the kind of a variety in classes and professors that he enjoys.
While he found the perfect major, the self-described clown with a love for performing was still craving a way to entertain.
Much to his surprise, he discovered his creative outlet in comedy after an audition landed him a spot in The Backward Thinkers Society, a UW-Eau Claire student improvisation group.
“I heard there was an improvisation group on campus and I figured that was more my pace,” Chase says of performing for fun instead of for academic credit. “I've always been a bit of a clown. I like making people smile or laugh at something I did or said.
“Still, getting involved in improv is something I never imagined. I remember watching ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ and being in total disbelief that they were making this comedy gold up on the spot. When I initially auditioned for BTS, I was shocked at how quickly I picked it up.”
Four years later, he’s still making people laugh.
“BTS changed my college experience tremendously,” says Chase. “My fellow improv comics are so much more than partners in comedy; they have been a supportive friend network. Everyone trusts each other and are free of judgment, which makes for a really productive and creative environment.
“It also has been an outlet for my silly to be expressed. I get the enjoyment of making people laugh and I get to express my craziest thoughts. It has really made me realize my passion for comedy.”
BTS was a newer organization when he joined, so there was little structure in place and most of the members were seniors.
When the seniors graduated, it left Chase and the other freshmen scrambling to keep the group going.
“We had no idea how to run the organization but it was up to us to build it back up,” Chase says. “We struggled for a bit, but by fall semester of 2015 we had added five more members and had a loose leadership structure. In the fall of 2016, we wrote a constitution that established four executive members with unique responsibilities, a process for elections and other miscellaneous guidelines. We also reached our optimum membership with 13 members.
“It was a hectic journey, but it is extremely rewarding to see what myself and my fellow Backwards Thinkers have helped this organization overcome.”
The entire experience — from being a leader in the organization to performing improv in front of an audience — has him feeling more prepared for his future career because it gave him outside-the-classroom, hands-on experiences that will help him in his job, he says.
For example, improv requires people to think on their feet and speak in front of people, both skills that will be of tremendous help in his sales career, Chase says.
BTS also helped him learn to work with a team to solve problems and work toward shared goals, which also are highly valued skills in the workplace.
While he will graduate in a few weeks, Chase has two more opportunities to make Blugolds laugh before he leaves campus.
Chase and The Backwards Thinkers Society will perform at 8 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 14 in The Cabin of Davies Center.
Chase says he is thankful that at UW-Eau Claire he found an academic program that allows him to combine his interest in business and his passion for entertaining.
“I’ve enjoyed performing with this group for four years,” Chase says of BTS. “But I also have used my love for showmanship in the classroom for four years. I’m an improv comedian AND a marketing salesman.
“UW-Eau Claire has shown me that I can pursue a business career and still enjoy performing.”
Photo cutline: Chase Kazmierkoski performs in The Cabin with UW-Eau Claire's The Backwards Thinkers Society improvisation group.