The Del Close Marathon begins in earnest today but I have been doing it in spirit since Monday (as is clear by the DCM Body Counts). Last year I planed poorly and, while I saw a lot, I saw not nearly as much a I wanted to. So this year I am embracing it more, attempting to see things I don't get a chance to normally. Diving in and breathing deep.
Monday started with The Improvised Shakespeare Company (ISC) (more on that later), followed by Baby Wants Candy (which I follow with great interest because (1) some of my favorite performers are on it... although sadly one of my favorites was not performing on Monday), (2) of VEAL and studying the musical improv form(s) and (3) they are just darn fun). I capped Monday with Couples Skate. I've been really enjoying Couples Skate for the last few months, seeing improvisers doing things I don't normally get to see them do. I am finding that, seeing them in new contexts, allows me to see their individual talents better. That sounds horrible. I suppose I mean that it is easier to zero in on what makes specific performers so good and am able to say to myself, "Ah! I want to try that and I want to get better at that!" It sounds cold and analytical (which I certainly can get). It is also just a joy. On Monday Billy Merritt and Ellie Kemper did a set. I've missed seeing both of them.
Tuesday was basically a repeat of Monday. I had become entranced by ISC and wanted to see it again (I told you! More on that later!). It is rare that I yell out suggestions. I always feel a weird responsibility for the show when I do. If the show (for whatever reason) goes poorly I (irrationally) worry that my suggestion contributed to the failure. But I did get mine in for ISC on Tuesday (they ask for the name of the play they are to perform): The Three Laws of Asimov. Yeah, I'm kind of proud of that. That was followed by BWC again – for which I also gave the suggestion, although I pre-planned it a bit: H.G.Wells' Vegas! Vegas! Vegas! I have to say, I love that title. The night ended with Jammin' With Ralph which, to be honest, was a lot more enjoyable that most Ralphs I've been to. (I was brain dead and not much help in any of my scenes but I certainly enjoyed watching.)
Wednesday I had workshops from 3pm to 11pm. They were good. One reminded me how I want to open more doors and possibilities in my improv (and should be worrying less about dong it "right"), and the other helped me zero in on some very simple things make myself better. The night ended with karaoke. I got there so late so never got a song, but I had two very nice gin and tonics, danced with friends, and basically blew off some steam/energy that had been building up from sitting in chairs listening to others awe me.
Thursday started out with Sheer/McBrayer. As expected, it was brilliant. In particular their classroom during a sex ed class. No less than eleven characters performed by two actors. Just a wonderful example of how much you can get with simple character games. Then, I am slightly embarrassed to say, I saw ISC again. My plan to see as much new stuff as possible was being tossed out the window by my new found love. (Hold that thought.) The night end with I Got Next! which was just goofy and silly. I don't want him to get a swelled head and all, but David Bluvband showed me yet again what a powerhouse improviser he is. So good, so present in his scenes and in his characters. If nothing else, I am so glad to being doing improv right now so that I can watch him grow as a performer.
(Okay, I've gotten to my actual point now.)
Shakespeare obviously has me in its spell. I went to see it the first time because I love improv and I love Shakespeare, but I was half expecting something very gimmicky. "Oh, look! They are making for of Shakespeare plays. Ah, they found away to do a balcony scene between two lovers... but they are hip-hop kids. How clever." (Clever is a bit of an insult in improv circles.) But it is not that. It is certainly in the style of Shakespeare and poke fun at the conventions of it, but it is more in honor of it. Mad and crazy, sure... but also grounded in character first and foremost. Bawdy, physical, thoughtful, sweet, violent, heartbreaking, funny, sad, shocking... all the things that make Shakespeare great. And so smart... while being, well, silly and stupid.
After watching it three times, I am just starting to grasp some of the structure and "tricks." Suggestions of a play title followed by an introductory character soliloquy. It is there that we are given themes and broad setting. The broad structure is a narrative so nothing too complicated. At least three scenes of different characters and setting up of plot and then plowing a head to they end. On Monday they had a wonderful wonderful aside scene that related little to the plot but helped paint a bigger picture of the world.
The biggest thing that amazes is the language. First, they ease at which it pours from their mouths. Much of that must be practice. But it would be easy to make fun of the language. Certainly, humor does come up from it but rarely is it just a joke about the language. The humor comes from the wordplay... like god damn Shakespeare. Well, I love a good pun but they kill normal improv scenes (being "clever"). With Shakespeare it is beyond puns. It is metaphor. And that, I realize, is such a key. Every setting, object, action can be metaphor... and should be. If a character starts a scene as a maiden milking her cow, her hands are described as "milky white." If someone is throwing their zephyr into a river in preparation of taking their own life, they can wax about how a river is like a string of music, the zephyr notes floating away into nothingness... and this then becomes a metaphor for life itself. Setting inspires metaphor which inspires character which inspires plot which inspires action which inspires metaphor (or any combination). And in that, beautiful (and hilarious) language can form from seemingly nothing. It is not something you can get away with in most improv. A couple at the breakfast table in 2008 will rarely compare their children to eggs and bacon. And if they did, THAT becomes the game of the scene. In Shakespeare, metaphor is just part of the style that can inspire the game of the scene. (Of course, this does happen in normal improv... it is just often happening in the performers' heads. A breakfast of bacon and eggs is very different from oatmeal or from poptarts. Each informs/inspires the world of the characters and what types of people they are. But to do it blatantly and to let it fully inspire larger themes and ideas... oh, magic. I've been trying it around the house today... both easier and harder than one might think.)
Anywhozits, I must get ready for the long evening ahead. Long shower, back provisions, a bit of food shopping. It has begun to rain which is no fun at all considering my $5 umbrella is on its last legs, a poor protector from the elements. On this eve of revelry, the gods cry and thunder. In defiance of man's hubris of creation? For is that not what the improvised play does upon the stage? To form from the void of nothing new lives that live and die. And we as an audience sit and laugh at these divine like acts. Perhaps the goods are weeping tears of joy at the magic of their creations. For they created us and we in turn create ourselves. But that is neither here nor there. My wilting structure of portable shelter will do little to keep me dry of their tears. And I will enter the theater soaked to the very bone in their wet, be that wet of anger, sorrow or joy.
Yeah. I like it. I am taking a workshop in it tomorrow at noon. I am all atwitter.
Russia's The Dead Hand
7 years ago