photo courtesy of the Ha-Ha's
Pam Victor and Jason Czernich
You would think that a play performed from a written script and an improvisation launched from a random idea would be, almost by definition, antithetical. If you did, Pam Victor wouldn’t agree.
Victor, a member of the Ha-Ha’s, the Valley’s primo improv troupe, is the mastermind behind Scripted/Unscripted, an exercise in dramatic tension that exploits the two genres’ essential differences. Here, in a two-person scene, one character is performed according to the script while the other one is ad-libbed, creating a unique hybrid, probably hilarious, certainly bizarre. The Valley version of this new form has its debut this weekend, when six such cross-bred scenes will be performed at the Ha-Ha’s regular monthly venue in Greenfield. I spoke about it with Victor recently.
Valley Advocate: How did you come up with this idea?
Pam Victor: It’s based on a form called Gravid Water, created by Stephen Ruddy of the Upright Citizen Brigade. I’ve altered it a tiny bit to meet our style.
How exactly does it work?
The scripted actors will prepare one half of a scene, which they rehearse in much the same way as a typical play. The improvisers have absolutely no idea what play they’ll be working with, so they’ll be going in completely blind. The scripted actors have to stick to the script word for word and line by line, though they may alter the delivery of the line to take into account whatever the improviser throws at them. They need to be firm yet flexible, like reeds in the wind.
How do you practice for a show that is both rehearsed and not?
Our first task was to get used to performing with each other. Some of the scripted actors don’t have much experience with improvisation, and the whole idea seemed a little frightening. Acting is a team sport, and I wanted everyone to know the improvisation tenet that everyone “has your back.” We’ve spent most of the time running all different kinds of scenes with different combinations of actors and improvisers, from conservative choices to really crazy stuff—but not any of the pieces we’re considering for the show.
Who are the performers?
We are very lucky to have such a talented cast of actors who have a lot of experience in all sorts of plays, from children’s theater to Shakespeare. They are Stephanie Carlson, Tim Holcomb, Sarah Wilson, Jason Czernich, Carissa Dagenais and Stephen Eldridge. And our improvisers are no slouches either. All the Ha-Ha’s are performing, plus our friend Mosie McNally and Will Luera, both alumni of ImprovBoston.
Improv is essentially an instant-comedy form, while text acting is considered more “serious.” Is this basically a cross-class marriage?
Many audiences consider improvisation a strange, weird little cousin of scripted acting, but that’s not the case at all. Improvisation is a complicated, challenging, and—when it’s done well—incredibly elegant piece of theater. I really enjoy the juxtaposition of these two lovely forms of stage acting, which encourages the audience to really ponder what it takes to get up there and work from a script, as well as the art of improvisation.•
Feb. 8, 8 p.m., $10/advance, $13/door, Arts Block Café, Main St., Greenfield. Info and tickets at happiervalley.com.
Chris Rohmann is at StageStruck@crocker.com and his StageStruck blog is at valleyadvocate.com/blogs/stagestruck.