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The University Magazine

Away from the lab, scientist plays for laughs

Roger Dube (pink shirt) performs with other members of the Village Idiots Improv Comedy troupe, including his wife, Jeri (seen below).

On the job at RIT, Roger Dube is a research professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

On his own time, he’s a Village Idiot – and proud of it.

The physicist is a member of Rochester’s Village Idiots Improv Comedy troupe.

He says his wife, Jeri, is responsible. “Jeri has been involved in acting most of her life,” says Dube, “and because of her, I’ve done some acting as well.” Both were members of a theater group in Tucson in the 1980s, and Roger had a role in a West Coast soap opera for a time. When they moved to Rochester in 2008 after 15 years in Boca Raton, Fla., Jeri auditioned for Village Idiots as a way of meeting people and getting to know their new town.

Dube went along just to watch, but the director asked him to fill in for a scene and both ended up joining the group – along with their son, Jordan, now a college student in Florida.

Improvisational comedy is quite different from conventional acting, Dube explains. “There are no lines to memorize. You don’t know what’s coming and you don’t know how you’re going to react,” he says. “A lot of improv is audience-driven. There’s no way to rehearse, but there are techniques you can practice.”

To that end, the group “rehearses” several times a week. “A successful improv troupe relies on trust between the players. You have to become comfortable with the other people.”

Village Idiots comprises about 30 members, but only four to six are on stage at any one time. A performance consists of a series of sketches and typically the audience scores the players after each skit. (Their performance space in Rochester’s Village Gate Square complex in Rochester seats about 50.) There’s no stage in the conventional sense, but music and lighting are important aspects of each performance and members of the troupe take a hand in behind-the-scenes duties.

“It’s very stimulating,” says Dube. “It really encourages new ways of thinking. It can also be very demanding, but it’s tremendously rewarding when the audience enjoys the show.”

He believes improv has much in common with teaching. “As a professor, you have to learn how to engage your audience. You have to use the creative side of your mind. Likewise, in improv you have to listen. You have to pay attention. You have to focus.”

Offstage, Dube is focusing on finding sources of clean energy. He recently received a $79,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to explore a novel approach using laser light to convert methane gas into liquid methanol.

Methane, a significant contributor to global warming, has many natural and man-made sources, including cattle, wetlands, coal mining and natural gas and petroleum production.

“Successful photo-catalysis of methane would theoretically produce clean fuels and remove methane gas that otherwise would simply be released into the atmosphere,” Dube says. “If successful, the technology could have broad impact in other fields of chemistry.”

For more information about Village Idiots Improv, including upcoming shows, visit www.improvvip.com/Show-Descriptions.html.
To learn more about Roger Dube’s research activities, visit www.cis.rit.edu/user/18.

Michelle Cometa and Kathy Lindsley