Welcome to Behind the Scenes week!
In honor of closing weekend of Secret Identity Crisis, I’m writing a series of posts about what improvisors are up to behind the scenes — in rehearsal, preshow and backstage.
First up — rehearsals.
“If you’re making it up on the spot, what do you do in rehearsals?” (or some version of that question) is one of the most often asked questions.
The answer: it depends on the show.
The Un-Scripted Theater Company follows a rather standard theater schedule of 6-8 weeks of rehearsal, then we open and have a run of shows for 4-8 weeks with rehearsals continuing through the run. There is a director (or co-directors) for each show who come up with the vision and design rehearsals to train the cast in the skills needed to make a successful show.
Secret Identity Crisis takes place in a world of superheroes, specifically inspired by the world of comic book superheroes. One aspect of rehearsals (and research outside of rehearsals) is getting the whole cast on the same page of what that can mean. I have to admit to probably never having read a comic book as an adult and it was really fun to be introduced to the range of what is out there. (Did you know Joss Whedon also writes comic books?)
In rehearsal, we worked with exploring the archetypes of the genre (the hero, the nemesis, the sidekick, the love interest and the mentor). By exploring them in rehearsal, we get through the easy references and common storylines so by the time we open we are ready to explore a wider variety of story arcs.
We worked a lot on endowments; always critical for an improvisor, an endowment is something an improvisor says or does that provides color and specificity. It can be about the location (“I’ve never seen so many posters of bears in one room.” or “Watch your step, there’s a sudden drop into the abyss over there”) or your own character (“I’ve never told anyone this before, but after the accident I started to have psychic visions.”) or someone else’s character (“I love you even if you never let me see your face behind the mask.”) Since we perform on a basically empty, black stage, we need to create the set in our audiences mind and communicate with each other within the scenes all of the ideas in our head.
We also practice the specific structural elements of a show. In Secret Identity Crisis, the show always starts with a climactic scene that ends with the main character in a spotlight. Then the story moves back in time and we work towards that moment for the rest of the show.
And we practice specific skills, like stage fighting which is its own post later this week.
Most importantly, the weeks of rehearsing together gives the cast time to know each others strengths and weaknesses and how to play together. There are 13 cast members, some of whom have played together for years and others who are totally new to each other. That’s a lot of playful relationships to develop. Rehearsal, for me, is an amazing time of growing appreciation for each persons’ skills.
Once the shows open, there is focus on how to go farther, tell more sophisticated stories, bring in more skills and achieve our goal…which is that our audience on any given night leaves feeling not only satisfied with the superhero show they’ve seen but that they feel like they’ve seen a play that just happens to not have a script.
If you want to hear from other cast members and see rehearsal footage, check out the fantastic vlogs that cast member Aaron made:
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