Sunday, June 17, 2007

Improv and Scripted Theater

I went to see Oliver Twist at the Berkeley Rep last week. It was a great show in spite of the odd choice to cast Oliver with an adult actor (a young adult, pictured above in white, but still an adult and as tall as Fagan) speaking in an affected high-pitched voice of a 10 year old. I won’t go into all the reasons THAT didn’t work, but suffice it to say the show overcame that fault to be highly enjoyable. The rest of the cast was brilliant especially the actor in the Dodger/Narrator role, Carson Elrod (an improvisor, no less, pictured above in the top hat, who was on the TV version of Keith Johnstone's Lifegame).

The show was done as a melodrama with a lot monologues and lines directed outward to the audience, but what struck me as an improvisor were two moments in particular. In both instances the actors not only directed their lines towards the audience, but asked the audience direct questions. However, both moments were designed to rely on the fact that no one in the audience would actually respond to the actor. In fact, the only way for those moments to work at all were if the audience did not respond. Had someone responded, the action wouldn’t have been able to move forward as was required for the narrative (a character would have known something they needed to not know) or the joke quite simply wouldn’t have worked.

How sad is that? Not only did they not expect the audience to respond to being directly addressed, but they were counting on it for effect. What’s wrong with modern drama that a non-reactive audience is taken for granted?

As an improvisor, used to directly engaging the audience, I was prepared to shout out responses to the actor’s direct queries, but I held back because I could tell from context that they didn’t really want a response. I’m sure that was not the reason holding most other audience members back.

There’s just something wrong with that.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Closing Weekend, Briefly

Closing weekend was a blast. I want to write about it in more detail when I have a little more time. In the mean time, here's the show summaries:

Thursday: Over My Head
Archie (Dave as puppet Tad) has everything he wants: a great job, a great girlfriend. He’s ready to propose, but his girlfriend Darlene (Tara) says “no”. Then his office burns down and Archie’s wanted for arson he didn’t commit. Hardened and world weary, he starts a new life in Morocco leading camel tours. But when a new Darlene (Amy as puppet Rita) comes into his life, Archie learns to love again.

Friday: Tattoo Star
When Timothy (Christian) rockets to super stardom as a psychedelic tattoo artist, he gets everything he ever wanted: fame, money, women, fans. But he loses his one true love, Angela (Tara as puppet Rita). When an experiment with glow-in-the-dark ink produces horrific results, he finally realizes fame isn’t what he thought it was.

Saturday: This is the End… Or is It? Carl (Clay), a performer, and George (Alan as puppet Marcel), a writer, get divorced. Then Carl’s one man show closes. All Carl wants to do is get away from it all to Nepal to climb Mount Everest, but his producer Glen (Mandy as puppet Dungeon) sends George along so the duo can write Carl’s new show Ms. Nepal. Is it really the end of their marriage?