Since moving to Chicago as an improviser, I have ironically, been performing a lot less improvisational theatre than I was when I was living in Seattle. Surprisingly, there just isn’t a huge amount of the type of improvised work that truly feeds my soul out here. This was frustrating at first, but Chicago being the type of city it is, an artist will either eventually find others who are passionate about the same styles or she will create her own. I’ve been fortunate enough to do both. This combined with gaining quite a bit more directing and teaching work than I had in Seattle has made Chicago a really comfortable city for me artistically.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss performing the type of improvised show that truly excites and challenges me. Performing the dual-language, “Spoken” in Berlin, touring “City Life” in Europe, and improvising full-length Shakespearean-style plays in Boulder were all amazing improv experiences that I treasure–not just because it was fun to travel, but more so because we were creating some pretty great theatre that happened to be improvised. Of course, I’m just remembering the “good stuff,” right? I mean, for those shows to come off entertaining, we had to know our shit as ensemble members–especially when we were performing any specific styles (Shakespeare, Film Noir, American Musical, etc…) Even after rehearsals ended and we were over mid-way through the run, I’d be looking at my notes, watching more plays, and basically continuing my research. I always felt “just behind” knowing enough information to do the show the best I could. I never wanted to get caught in a rut of only knowing the same tiny amount. So, I’d spend anywhere between a half hour up to a couple hours every day of the performance reviewing the language, physicality, and staging for that style. Despite (or because of) all of that hard work, the shows were always so much fun–invigorating and exciting. In fact, now that I look back, the intimidation these types of shows gave me really pushed me to work on becoming a better performer.
I can see now why it’s so frustrating for an artist in any medium to not have that right mix of excitement and intimidation about a project.
And here I am in 2011, about to open a show with WNEP that has that exact mix. I haven’t been this excited and intimidated by a show I’m doing since…well, since I did those shows listed above. Postmortem opens this Friday. It’s an improvised documentary about a real Chicagoan’s life, based on an obituary from the performance day’s newspaper. If our protagonist was born in 1926, then the show begins in the 20’s. We then take the audience through every decade–following the implied, supposed, and created events in that person’s life–happy, sad, embarrassing, inspiring, and everything in between. In addition, each show has two monologists drawn from the ensemble that help pepper the documentary with historical and social commentary illuminating not just the particular decade, but the themes from that person’s life as well.
I try (sometimes successfully) to do some type of research for this show every single day. From field-trips to the Chicago History Museum to making flashcards on youth slang (from the 20’s to the present) to listening to the Abbot and Costello radio program from the 40’s, this show is kicking my ass. Seriously.
And I love it.
It’s that same feeling I had before doing any of that really challenging and rewarding work before…..I just can’t learn enough. I’ll never know enough to do this show really, truly well.
And I guess that’s a pretty good place to be as a performer.
This entry would be incomplete without me asking you to check out this show! Click here for dates and times. Please note that there are Sunday performances as well, but because of my teaching schedule, I will be in the Fri/Sat shows only. Thank you.