On Friday, Oct. 16, Haugen Theater filled with students coming to see Between the Lines, a half-improvised, half-scripted collaboration between the recently formed student theater group, Myswyken Salad Theatre Company and West End Improv, a group that branched off of Scared Scriptless. As one might guess from such a combination, hilarity ensued.
Last spring, as West End Improv began planning for this fall, they recalled a successful show from 2012 known as In Between Lines. Sponsored by Deep End, the show had actors memorize the lines of a scene and perform it with a simple set and in costume. The twist was that an improviser, who did not know who they had been paired with or what scene they were walking into, would walk onto the stage in their normal clothes and have to react and build a scene with the actor. Though adored by fans, the show was not repeated, which senior members of West End Improv wanted to change.
Enter Myswyken Salad Theatre Company. With plans for the future fairly open, the group agreed to West End Improv’s proposal to collaborate for Between the Lines, named Bess Clement ’18 the director and left the planning for the fall.
In response to a lack of available royalty-free scripts, Myswkyen turned to the classical plays of Henrik Ibsen, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and an anonymously written one-act from the public domain. Selected by Clement, the scripts were only dispersed amongst the five Myswyken members acting in the event.
“All I knew was that we had to prep something [to respond to] Shakespeare, so we all did a practice of only Shakespeare” Preston West ’16 of West End said.
From the actors’ perspective, the challenge was welcome. Ian Sutherland ’18, who played Petruchio from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, had played Petruchio before and found the characterization easy.
However, the actors found the dialogue tricky.
“The hardest part was memorizing only half a script without the reactionary bits, because my lines are all wordplay and reactionary bits,” Sutherland said.
Given that their lines still had to help create a scene, Clement advised the actors that if reacting genuinely forced them outside of their lines, they should stay in character and not let on they had deviated from the script.
For their part, the improvisers of West End were feeling nervous.
“It was terrifying, going on stage. The weirdest thing is that you get a suggestion, a single word, and you just have to make a decision,” Christian Conway ’18 said.
Alison Lonigro ’16 further explained the imbalance.
“One of the harder things is that when you do a regular improv scene, you know whoever is on stage will be supporting you, but here, when you’re on stage, they are not supporting you back. So don’t ask them a question, because they won’t answer it.”
All nerves aside, the show went on, full of genius moments of improvisation to fit the scripts.
Christian Conway ’18 marked himself a maid and originally planned to complain about taking care of the character played by Matt Stai ’18. Conway then found himself already engaged to Earnest and flipped his character to unapologetically flaunt a bigger engagement ring and taunt Stai with the prospect of waking up to the view of a bog every morning.
Lonigro entered the scene expecting to tutor Sutherland in English but was harassed instead with his Shakespearean attempts to tame her, whose irony was accentuated as she tried to figure out what part of English he needed tutoring in.
And finally, Chaz Mayo ’18 and Madeline Burbank ’16 shared a scene that “would have been so beautiful of them as a couple, but then he ended up being her dad, so that got awkward,” Clement said.
The improvisers asserted that the best way to combat errors was to establish a relationship with their scene partner and enjoy where things went from there.
“It was a good experience in that it opened up a lot of opportunities where we have two realms we have created, coming together, and starting conversations about what else can we combine, what else we can smash together,” Sutherland said, “I know a lot of us backstage said ‘let’s do this again’. I talked to Deep End about a collaboration, we talked to other improv groups about collaboration, we talked about the full Shakespearean version of this. And that wouldn’t happen after just theater or just improv shows: you need both to find all the possibilities.”
Both groups have upcoming performances. Myswyken will be performing Oedipus Rekt, written by Mayo, Dec. 11-12. West End Improv will announce future shows on its Facebook page.