This was a truly unique experiment, in which
students and I combined and implemented theatre traditions and
techniques from several eras and genres in order to generate an
improvisationally based, collectively written and enacted comedy.
with the idea of improvising a comedy in the tradition of the
Commedia dell’ Arte (a form of improvisational street theatre from
the Italian Renaissance), which has been passed down to us in the form
of scenarios – long and detailed plot descriptions with no dialogue but
with stock characters that have their origins in antiquity and which
persist today in various forms of theatre, television, and film dramas.
For example, George Jefferson from the 1970s TV comedy “The Jeffersons”
may be seen as a form of the commedia character Pantalone, a miserly,
foolish older man who is often made the butt of jokes by his clever
servant, the Jeffersons’ maid, Florence. Similar parallels may be drawn
to commedia from TV shows such as “I Love Lucy,” “The Beverly
Hillbillies,” “The Simpsons,” “Arrested Development”; films like “It’s
a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”; and musicals like “A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to the Forum.” It is Commedia that spawned the term
"slapstick," based on a common prop: a two-pieced hinged paddle that
provides a loud smack when applied against the posterior region of an
unsuspecting bent-over character.
Although Commedia provided the inspiration, several more modern methods
and genres also came into play.
Chief among them is Long Form Improvisation, a form of extended
improvisational techniques based on certain central elements that
strives to create and preserve a story line rather than merely generate
quick, off the cuff laughs. This latter kind of improv, short form, is
the kind commonly experienced at Orlando’s SAKS Comedy Lab, Chicago’s
Second City, TV’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or even in its more
crafted form on Saturday Night Live. In long form improv, performers
are encouraged to follow their imagination, not towards the easy laugh,
but towards a deeper truth and consistency of character that can be
sustained for an hour or two.
applied techniques of collective creation pioneered by Jerzy Grotowski
(Poland) and honed by Enrique Buenaventura (Colombia) and Augusto Boal
(Brazil). Under collective creation, the actors begin with a theme or
goal and are guided by a director to gradually build a story through
discussion and experimental improvisation in which their ideas are
played out and evaluated in rehearsal, and edited together by a
facilitator/ director. This constituted the main part of our process.
The result of our 2-month process was a play which had a prepared story
but largely improvised dialogue, concerning a group of
down-on-their-luck actors who have been hired to provide atmosphere at
a Medieval Faire, King’s Castle Fantasy Island Park of Wonder, located
on an island that is accessible only by ferry. When one of their
company members is strangely murdered by arrow, gunshot, and poison,
they are trapped on the island overnight and must work together – not
to find the murderer (they could care less about him), but to find the
“treasure” hidden by the murder victim, which includes not only money,
but an item that could result in a Hollywood career for whoever
possesses it. The cast tries to overcome their mutual dislikes and
jealousies to follow the clues that lead to the treasure. The resulting
madcap adventure has, strangely enough, a surprise ending.
This production featured alumnus Patrick Pieri
and a large contingent of first-semester freshmen.