15 October 2007

I Heart Improvisation

Way back at the end of our first week of running Prohibitive Standards, I began a 'blog entry, the which I have not returned to since my first true day off. I quote--here, after the second week of performances--said beginning:

"We had our first genuinely difficult performance of Prohibitive Standards yesterday. It was the end of our opening weekend, a weekend in which we performed five shows (or six, if you include our invitational dress rehearsal) after weeks of arduous development. We were bound to lose some steam by the time we got to that final show of the week, and it didn't help that our audience was the smallest and least responsive yet. (There are a number of blessings/curses to performing on a university campus, not the least of which is some guaranteed audience numbers . . . as a result of the show being a requirement for theatre and history classes.) I can't ever shift blame for a disappointing show onto an audience, however. Even a show as dependent on audience involvement as this one.

"All comedy is rather dependent on a receptive audience. I mean, that's how you know you're reaching an audience with a comedy: laughter. Immediate response. Now, improvisational comedy, that's the most potentially insecure comedy of all. Think of how the form has translated into television and film thus far. Both the Christopher Guest films and--to a greater degree--a show like The Office depend on awkward scenarios and seemingly oblivious characters for their humor. There's an interesting overlap of what I've been doing in relative anonymity for my entire acting career and the American public's interest coming up: The "The Office" Convention in Scranton, PA. I and about fourteen other actors affiliated with The Northeast Theatre will be doing an improvised performance as a part of the event, directed by Samantha Phillips and written/structured by Steve Deighan."
Where am I going with this, you may ask (if, indeed, you are even bothering to check my 'blog after such extended absences)? Well, after two weeks of performing this entirely original piece, I have to confess that some rather brutal reality checks have been in order. The first of these is to admit that our relative success in the opening weekend had rather to do with an extended version of "opening night syndrome." For you non-theatre-o-philes, this is the phenomenon whereby all community theatre sustains life. Essentially, it is the equation effort + community involvement = mutual necessary success. In other words, when ensconced in a community that comes to need your success to verify itself, success is somewhat guaranteed in the response from said community. They are supportive in spite of themselves, because they have come to value you as a representative of their community.
That's not to say we didn't work very hard, nor that Marywood's opinion is invalid in any way. Rather, it is to say that we didn't have the opportunity to face the real challenges of actors and collaborative playwrights until the glow of opening a unique effort faded and died. Rather farther, it is to say that we have begun--in this second season of three--to find a sincerity and danger to the show that we could barely conceive of in our packed houses at Marywood.
So seems it to me, as biased and involved as I may be at this time.
This weekend, we came upon the remarkable stage of development in which we toyed with core elements of the show. All the things we were terrified to play with when we finally got a working plot on its feet--intentions, motivations, lazzi--have become fair play, and just in time, too. It was getting terribly stale, and hope was draining like hooch into a 1916 sewer. The last two shows we've done were well received, but more importantly we found truth in them again. And this time, the truth is born of the moment itself more than the desperation of making something comprehensible (of course, a sense of desperation doesn't hurt, either).
I acknowledge: this has been a terribly abstract entry--particularly for them what haven't tried to succeed at long-from improvisation previously. I hope to remedy that in later entries. For now, try and relax in this little axiom:

"Getting it 'right' is ridiculously unproductive. Make mistakes constantly, and make them boldly, or suffer from limitation and stagnation."

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