The annual Canberra Unscripted Improv festival happened last month (19 – 22 September). I’ll admit, as a playwright who never acts (and very rarely directs), improvisational theatre isn’t something I’ve ever connected with.
For me, the script is the heart and soul of my theatre experience. It’s where I start, and usually where I finish my part in the whole “making theatre” thing.
Needless to say, the thought of being involved in an improv show has never crossed my mind. If it doesn’t have a script, I don’t see how I fit.
However, a couple of months ago I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from a local improv troupe, Lightbulb Improv. The brief was simple: write the first scene of a play so that the troupe could then make up the rest. It was for an improv show called Script Tease that would, for the first time that I know of, incorporate scripts into an improvised performance.
I was intrigued by the idea, and I’ll admit, a little overconfident about the whole thing. After all, starting plays is easy! The hard part is filling in the rest – i.e., the middle and end.
Of course, it was trickier than anticipated. Starting a play and needing to set up the characters, situation, stakes, and obstacles without any idea about where it was going in terms of plot or theme was a very counter-intuitive way to write.
I kept thinking about how every interaction or hint at an idea would lead to a payoff or reveal later in the play. But of course, I wasn’t writing a full play – just a tease of one. So, I had to pull back and leave it as open as possible. After all, the players need room to play!
Luckily, I managed to get the job done. My play was about two gamer geeks that, after a year of talking online, accidentally agree to meet in real life. Of course, they both freak out and run to their respective friends for advice. Hijinks ensue.
Overall, Script Tease was a lot of fun to be part of. As expected, my play went in a direction I never anticipated. It got chaotic and slapstick very quickly – but that’s no surprise given the subject matter.
Still, I was stoked with what the improvisers did with the characters, especially given the tight timeframes and setting they had to deal with. It was wonderful to see my creations come to life and then quickly run amok.
I was one of four local playwrights taking part in Script tease. The others included John Lombard and Harriet Elvin (both Short+Sweet regulars) and Laura Griffin (a Lightbulb member and Short+Sweet finalist too). The show included crazy business meetings, pirates, haunted houses, and zombies.
Big thanks to all at Lighbulb for the fun night, especially Lou Maconachie, Amy Crawford, and Katherine Berry for making it all happen.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but hopefully, I’ll get to improv again.