Monday (5/25/09) 6:22pm - ... wherein Peter does the improv-Shakespeare show.
This past Saturday, I performed in the Hideout's "Improvised Shakespeare" show. I figured I'd let folks know how that went.
Rehearsal this past Wednesday was a bit iffy, but we felt confident that the show would go okay. I myself was nervous. I'd never done the Shakespeare show before. In fact, I'd never done any improvised Shakespeare *or* any long-form improv for a paying audience. I'd missed several rehearsals, owing to a cold, then bronchitis, then a near-terminal case of "I have to go watch the LOST finale." Plus, we had a small cast this time around, so I had absolutely no room to slack off.
It didn't help that I was especially absent-minded that day. On the way to the theater, I realized I hadn't shaved. I checked the mirror, concluded that I didn't look horrible, and wondered idly if I could pick up a razor at a drugstore downtown. Then I parked, opened up my backpack, and realized I had no costume.
Earlier that day, I'd found the only vaguely-period shirt in my wardrobe and set it aside. Then, instead of putting it in my backpack, I left it there in my apartment. (Grr.) If I drove home and drove back, I would arrive after the show started.
So I arrived with no costume.
The rest of the cast cobbled something together for me at the last minute. Curtis got out the show's costume-accessories box, and I fished out a large square of crushed red velvet with a head-hole cut out of the center. Between that and a wool scarf that I was just thin enough to use as a belt (hooray for freakish ectomorphism), I had a makeshift period shirt. bellatrixamici loaned me a cloak I could wear over it -- which was useful as my 'shirt' was open at the sides.
With that squared away, we warmed up a bit -- mostly just babbling away in iambic pentameter. This week the cast was me, zinereem, bellatrixamici, Troy, and Curtis.
Then the show got started. I suppose I'll cover the show itself in hail-of-bullets format:
- The setup: Troy was Cicerus Maximus, newly returned from the wars. bellatrixamici was Viola, Cicerus's wife. Curtis was Cicerus's servant. zinereem was Orcus, a citizen who championed further war with Gaul, while I was Clarites, a tribune who wanted to continue our newfound Pax Romana.
- Then there was a genius move where Orcus, pretending to be a noted soothsayer, tricked Viola into pressuring Cicerus to resume the Gallic war.
- As is common in improv longforms, "then things got weird." In the Clarites-Orcus debate in the Forum, Clarites challenged Orcus to a dance-off. At the same time, Cicerus developed a case of hysterical blindness. The dance-off blossomed into a tripartite competition -- dance, debate, and then a public vote -- which Orcus won. Rome appointed Cicerus to lead the Roman army, in spite of his inability to see.
- At this point, bellatrixamici did yeoman's work gathering the threads together for the end. Viola realized that Orcus had deceived her, she obtained a truth-serum potion from an apothecary, and then she delivered it to Orcus (by kissing him) at the Forum.
- This led to a final scene where Orcus, hit with the truth serum, announced his long-standing wish that all Romans would die. Cicerus, still blind, drew his sword to attack Orcus. Instead, he ran his wife through. His servant then attacked Orcus; both died. Then Cicerus regained his sight only to die of an aneurysm. That left Clarites to deliver a quick speech about what it all meant.
- Then everyone danced a jig.
- To my happy surprise, several people from the Austin Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet (Mercutio, Romeo, Prince Escalus) came by to watch our little show. It turns out that Saturday's performance of Romeo and Juliet wound up getting cancelled after the torrential downpour, so some of the actors wandered over to the Hideout instead.
- I myself hadn't heard about the R&J cancellation, so I was confused. I spotted Justin in the audience about halfway through the show, and thought to myself, "Huh? I mean, I know Mercutio dies early on, but how is he here watching this show?"
- I botched a bunch of little things in the show:
- I never had a good feel for the end of a scene, and I never stepped forward to confidently (and, perhaps, mercifully) wipe a scene that felt like it had run out of gas. This is how I wound up wandering onstage with a podium towards the end of the first scene... and then just standing there for what felt like forever.
- I tried to block bellatrixamici when she came on as a very slow-witted minor character who'd represent Orcus in the debate (specifically, I tried to block that she was slow-witted -- oop-la).
- In all the Clarites-Orcus debates I barely coughed up any speeches, and there were several points in the show where I just dried up completely (most pointedly: Cicerus telling Clarites about Viola's pregnancy). Ah well.
- At one point I tried to bring zinereem on for the next scene while bellatrixamici was waving us back. -10 points for not watching the other performers.
- I botched the last speech. Specifically, I just did one rhymed couplet of blank verse and waved the lights down, which felt unsatisfying. It would have felt right to speak about a dozen lines of text, *then* the couplet.
- Generally, I should have attempted more lengthy speechifying *throughout* the show.
- I referenced the song "MacArthur Park" at one point, leading to groans from the audience. (I'm sorry.)
- That said, I think I did other things well.
- Clarites didn't have much of a character, but in the couple of minor roles I took on, I created characters that were clearly different from Clarites.
- I'd had some trouble with this in the Wednesday rehearsal.
- As usual, I did a halfway respectable job speaking verse.
- I deployed a few decent metaphors here and there -- I can do better next time, but this was a good start.
- I introduced the dance-off into the plot, which was deeply satisfying to the audience, and led to a great game where zinereem kept trying to wheedle out of having to dance onstage.
- High point: Curtis saying something along the lines of "Orcus, he hath served it up, and now thou must respond!"
- As I watched scenes from the wings, I had lots of ideas popping into my head of what the next scene ought to be. This is probably bad form; I suspect an improvisor is better off ignoring such thoughts, focusing solely on watching the current scene, and trusting the next scene to take care of itself: plan nothing, step out on the stage and do whatever feels right.
- I also felt like I never quite clicked with the rest of the cast. This makes sense, as the show's central cast has worked together a ton (not least in other runs of improv Shakespeare), and I'm pretty far out in the periphery of the local scene. Plus, I just don't do a lot of improv, so it stands to reason that I wouldn't quite 'lock in' with the rest of the show.
- And missing several rehearsals? -- yeah, that probably didn't help either.
- That said, the show felt good. The audience was wildly enthusiastic, the jokey bits went over well, and we even got an "awww" out of the crowd when Cicerus mistakenly killed his wife. The cast had a good time, too.
- I tried doing Micetro after the Shakespeare gig finished up, and had a surprisingly pleasant time in that show. I suppose doing another show before Micetro solved my "people don't really warm up for Micetro" problem.
So that's how that went. I do the show again the Saturday after next (June 6) -- the other cast members will be acrouch
, and Troy. This coming Saturday, I'm doing tech for the show with Troy, so I guess I need to re-learn my way around the booth.
 I'm not counting 2002's "Slumber Party Slaughter," which was less about narrative and more about cheesy-horror-movie stage effects.
accomplished · Music: