Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 Interview with Impro's Dan O'Connor

The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica presents the World Premiere of  Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza, from LA’s Impro Theatre, the creators and performers of the wildly popular Jane Austen UnScripted. Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza is created especially for The Broad Stage. Over their history, the company has produced a bevy of mainstage shows including: Shakespeare UnScripted, Film Noir UnScripted, Twilight Zone UnScripted, Sondheim UnScripted, Dickens UnScripted, The Western UnScripted, Tennessee Williams UnScripted, Chekhov UnScripted, along with Fairytales UnScripted and Jane Austen UnScripted, which both previously ran at The Broad Stage. This new production marks the group's 10th anniversary.

Producing artistic director of Impro Dan O’Connor sat down recently to talk to us about this holiday show.

Tell me from your perspective all about this wonderful holiday show. Is it different from usual Impro productions? If so, how?
Well, first of all, Impro Theatre's 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza is a World Premiere.  We've never done this show before, so while the show is completely shaped by audience suggestions and totally improvised (like all of our other shows), this show is brand new and never seen before.  Plus, we have a cast of 17 and a five-piece swinging 60s jazz bandso our audiences will see a much bigger production than most of our other shows. And we're thrilled to be back at the Broad Stage.  

Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza
 is a completely improvised show in the style of those TV holiday spectaculars hosted by Andy Williams, Perry Como and Bob Hope in the 60s. This style is perfect for Impro Theatre because we can capture the spirit of spontaneity in those holiday specials. Bing Crosby’s doorbell rings and in walks David Bowie, wrapped in a scarf ... Judy Garland’s house is suddenly filled with a group of dancing Santas for no reason ...  There is a wonderful chaos to these holiday variety specials, and we’ve had great fun exploring these in rehearsal. Everything will be inspired by audience suggestions and improvised, including holiday songs, dances, novelty acts, special appearances from fictional celebrities, puppets, fake commercials, and much more.  Like the original holiday shows, ours will be filled with joy and laughter, and now more than ever, we think it’s important to unite on some level.  What better way to connect than by laughing together during the holidays?

I love the work your group does. I have seen and reviewed many productions around town. I am always amazed at how actors seem to make precise entrances and exits and perform their roles during the improv show as if some plot elements and scenes were previously staged and rehearsed. It just seems too perfect at times. How much exactly do the actors know in advance apart from what the audience provides at the top of the show? I know it takes imagination and mucho skill, which the actors have in spades, but it is actually all improv?
We get this question a lot. And yes, sometimes scenes and shows appear to run very smoothly -- almost perfectly -- which is exactly what we aspire to!  Our shows are completely improvised, and at the top of the show, the actors don't know anything in advance. Nothing is pre-set; the cast doesn't even know who will appear in the first scene. Once we get the audience suggestions that start the show, we're off and running, and everyone is working together to make up the play on the spot. We're usually supported by lighting and sound improvisers, who are improvising right alongside us.

We always tell people that if you doubt the show was completely improvised, come back another night, and we'll prove it to you because you'll see a completely different show.  We also have rotating casts that ensure that every performance is entirely unique.
Even if the script is improvised, you must rehearse. How do you prepare?
We have developed a very innovative rehearsal process that combines scholarly research with improvisational exercises over an extended period of time.  Before we perform a show like "Jane Austen UnScripted," we have spent a great deal of time reading her books, studying literally criticism, watching movies, and discussing the themes, tropes, storylines, language, etc., that Austen explored in her work.  Same thing for "Shakespeare UnScripted," "Chekhov UnScripted," "L.A. Noir UnScripted," even "Sondheim UnScripted," and every other style we do.  All of that extensive work allows us to inhabit the world and collectively work within the framework of that genre. Within that world, we are all working together, inspired by the audience's suggestions and improvising on the spot. 
I understand you extend your skills through education. Tell our readers about this work.
In addition to performing, we also manage the Impro Theatre School in Los Feliz, CA, where we teach these narrative and genre improv skills to students of all levels. The School grows much bigger every year because we're teaching things that students can't find anywhere else, and with every show, people are more and more interested in our creative and artistic process. We attract a lot of actors who are looking to improve their improv skills, and also improvisers who want to become better actors. We really enjoy and believe in the importance of teaching and sharing our innovative approaches to the next generation of improvisers.  What we do is completely unique -- no one else is doing what we do -- and it can definitely be taught. We've been doing it for a long time and have become pretty good at it.

Remember: The Broad Stage December 15-17 at 7:30 pm. Three performances only!