Wednesday, 2 October 2002

Shakespeare Improvised: Bard-Prov , Oct 2, 2002

Improvised Shakespeare by Melbourne Impro
 directed by Kate Herbert

La Mama at the Courthouse Theatre

 349 Drummond St Carlton

Sundays October 6 and 13

"Out damned spot," says a woman to her stained laundry. This was not Shakespeare's intention for Lady Macbeth's words but it could be part of the upcoming improvised Shakespeares by Impro Melbourne.

Allow me to declare my hand here: I am the foolish director of these plays.

Having spent three months in San Francisco on an Australia Council grant studying the full length improvised play, it is time to mercilessly bastardise The Bard in Melbourne.

Obsessed academics argue about who wrote Shakespeare's plays four hundred years ago. The will have an apoplexy over these as yet unwritten plays.

Here is how it goes. The audience suggests a titles for a Shakespeare play that has never been written. In San Francisco we had Midnight's Desire  as our title.

The play was a romantic comedy but it might have been a tragedy  - except for the fact that it started with a royal lady in bed with her loyal Nurse.

Now you must believe that we really do begin with nothing prepared.  Nix, nil, nada. We have no idea what the story will be or who it will be about. We have no content, only form and a deep understanding of how a Shakespeare play is constructed and performed.

For the novice this would be terrifying. For the experienced improviser it is- well - terrifying and exhilarating.

In a Shakespeare improvised we are both performers and playwrights. We really make it up as we go along.

In a recent improvised play, a tragedy called A Tale of Joy and Damnation, a king divides his kingdom between a son and disloyal daughter. The son fears for his father's safety and takes an army of loyal and lusty whores (yes whores) to save him.

There is a lot of 'verily' and 'mayhap' and 'What ho!' bandied about. Characters are named Bassacio, Filander and even Plutonium in one recently.

The creative mind in a whirl is a wonderful thing to witness. This is part of the attraction for an audience of an improvised play. They watch not only the product, but the moment of creation.

They are fascinated by the story and also by the incredible feat of imagination that created it in an instant before their eyes. An improviser could spontaneously combust at any moment.

The tricky thing in improvisation is to go not only to the comic but also to the dramatic level of the characters and the narrative.

The most successful improvised plays are those that balance the light and airy with the moving and personal elements of the story.

Of course, the form can apply to any other playwright or film genre you may choose.

In San Francisco (Yes, three months of fog and Californian sun) we performed plays in the style of Film Noir, Sci-Fi, David Lynch and Horror movies.

Some companies are doing weekly serials that last for months or even a whole year.

After Shakespeare, I tackle Chekhov, the Ancient Greeks, Film Noir. What the hey! Maybe even David Williamson. Hmm. What style is that? Middle class Australian whining and dining I suppose.

By Kate Herbert

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