By Rachel Hogan
Improvised theatre is an art form that prides itself on its anarchism. So maybe it is not surprising when what rules it has, it breaks. Which is precisely what the people of Lightbulb Improv are doing with “Script Tease”, their offering in the Street Theatre’s Canberra Unscripted Festival. They’re working with scripts.
It’s counterintuitive, and a bold new adventure for the group. “None of us have ever done this before,” says director and performer Katherine Berry. “So that makes the show more risky, more exciting.”
Berry has been taking her team through some dramaturgical exercises, considering things like plot structure and archetypal journeys in preparation for the single performance, when they will be presented with four opening scenes written by four local playwrights. After performing each scene in a cold read, they will improvise the rest of the play.
The scenes are a closely guarded secret. “We have absolutely no idea what they’re about,” Berry says. “The writers gave us a props list, so of course we’re looking at this list of unrelated items, trying to imagine what stories might bring them together. But, no, it could be anything. It’s fun. It’s like having a present before it’s time to open it. You want to peek, but you don’t want to ruin the surprise.”
Paradoxically, the scripted scenes guarantee the show’s absolute spontaneity. The performers who are “prepared to be unprepared” will be less prepared than usual.
Improvised theatre performances will usually begin with at least some of the parameters being established. In “Script Tease”, the performers will have a matter of minutes to acclimatise themselves to the universes the writers have created for them. Which could be very strange universes indeed.
Among the writers is John Lombard, who has had his 10 minutes plays performed in Short and Sweet festivals across the world. Fellow ten-minute format master Greg Gould may favour a more prosaic setting, but his canny eye for the awkward moment will certainly challenge the performers to keep the dramatic stakes mounting.
Not to be outshone, Harriet Elvin hopes to provide some deliciously cheeky premises, and Laura Griffin, a Lightbulb member herself, may be the best equipped of all to press the performers’ creative buttons.
Berry admits that for this show the group has more focus on structure than it normally would.
“We want to respect the scripts, and, I suppose, the craft of the writers. So, ideally, that’s a beginning, middle and end, character arcs, and having the story mean something. But still, hopefully, we take off in some wild and crazy directions,” she says.
“When we put down the scripts something has to happen. Like bam. Here’s the magic.”
Script Tease is at the Street Theatre, Thursday 19 September at 7pm. It is part of Canberra Unscripted, which runs from the 19 - 22 September. Visit thestreet.org.au