Review: Seriously! Dramatically Improvised Stories

By Sam Mooney

Having read Mira’s profile of Seriouly! Dramatically Improvised Stories in Mooney on Theatre I was looking forward to seeing the show.  Like Mira I just associated improv with comedy and found the idea of of dramatic improv appealing.

I saw the show Tuesday night at Bad Dog Theatre with Mira.  There were only 6 of us in the audience.  A real shame, I think that must make it very difficult for performers.So did it work for me?  No, not really.  Not anything to do with the actors, Alex Hatz, Allison Hogg, Sean Tabares and Darryl Pring, all are very talented.  Mira and I both left thinking that maybe improv is supposed to be comedy, that it can’t work as drama.

Why?  I’ve been thinking about that all day.

Before the show I was concerned that it might be ‘too serious’ , that there might be no comedic relief.  I wanted ‘dramedy’.  There were a few laughs, some of which flowed naturally and some which didn’t.  Overall though, the performance was serious and when it threatened to veer towards a lighter area Darryl pulled it back.

The performance started with Darryl asking the audience for a suggestion that the cast could work with, something I’ve seen before in improv.  He qualified his request by saying “…something like a wedding or a funeral.”  Someone suggested wedding but Darryl said the he wanted “something like” a wedding or funeral, not a wedding or a funeral.  He settled on ‘birthday’.

The performance followed a pattern that matched my limited experience with improv.  For the most part the actors worked in pairs and at some signal left the stage for the next pair.  I think there were three related story lines.  There were a couple of scenes that I wanted to continue, that ended as I was getting interested.

One of the things that I thought about today was that the topic wasn’t really serious, that it was too one-dimensional to yield any true emotion and for me serious needs emotion. I was talking with a friend who knows far more about theatre than I do, she said “If it isn’t about the laughs it has to be about the character”.

That comment pulled it together for me.  I’d expand that and say that it has to be about the character or the plot.  All three were missing last night.  The topic needed be narrower, more specific.  For something like this there must be a better way to pick the topic than to ask the audience for one word.  Maybe give the audience a choice of two and pick by applause.  Or put the topics on pieces of paper and have someone in the audience draw a topic from a hat.  Or, this was my friend’s idea, start a Facebook page and ask for suggestions there.

Mira suggested that they hone some segments that would work in a number of situations.

I would have liked a focus on character development and a plot.  I don’t really know how you make a plot as part of an improv performance but the seeds of character development were there.  Maybe the signalling and changing teams aren’t the best way to approach it.

I still really like idea of serious improv and the seeds were there.  It just needs more time to grow.

Tuesday was the last night that Seriously! Dramatically Improvised Stories at Bad Dog Theatre.

One thought on “Review: Seriously! Dramatically Improvised Stories”

  1. The other thing I said (mum, it’s okay people know we’re related and not just friend. *grin*) is that it sounds like the production was trying to treat serious improv just like ‘funny’ improv. But it’s a very different thing. All improvisation means is no script, it doesn’t mean following conventions and games and things like that.

    I was very excited about this concept, a completely improvised show, it’s why I wanted it profiled and reviewed, and part of why I was excited is because I’ve experienced serious improv that has really worked.

    But it’s usually done in the context of character development during rehearsal, or workshopping a new piece, or just doing an acting exercise. The one I remember, the scenario was that my cousin (or rather, the cousin of my character) needed a kidney transplant and I was the only match. The tension on stage was that I was not allowed to let my character say yes, and she was not allowed to let her character give up. We had people on stage supporting us, I think the concept was two couples.

    It was an intense amazing experience. I ended up crying on stage, or rather, my character did, there was no conscious ‘this is a good place to cry’ thing, it just happened, all of a sudden I was crying. It was amazing to me how deep I could get into a character that I had literally *just* been introduced to. I wouldn’t have been able to do that just with a script first run.

    So, I’m still a very big believer in serious improv, and I from my conversation with mum it sounded like there was a hell of a lot of talent on that stage. So I have faith that perhaps with a different director, if these folks can break out of the traditional ‘funny’ improv mould and work on a different format then there is potential for a lot here.

    I have a billion more ideas, but I won’t bore you all with them here. ;)

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