Improvisation is a popular form of live entertainment. In the Triangle, a handful of improv troupes have been performing it for decades. The fun comes from seeing what actors can make up using audience suggestions for situations and characters.
Durham’s Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, now in its 13th season, is known for wildly creative, genre-exploding theater productions that challenge both audiences and actors. But the company hasn’t ever experimented with improv – until now.
Most improv is performed in short comedic sketches, although some companies work in longer forms that allow more plot and character development. For “Lake Placid,” opening Nov. 24, Little Green Pig raises the bar by attempting to stage a completely improvised 90-minute play that will be different every night during the show’s nine-performance run.
Jaybird O’Berski, the company’s artistic director, spoke recently about how the idea came about, the way he’ll rehearse his actors and what he hopes will come out of the production. Here are excerpts of that conversation:
Q: Why “Lake Placid”?
A: I was a 10-year-old boy when the 1980 Winter Olympics games were held around Lake Placid in Upstate New York, the first one I remember being conscious of. I thought it would be an interesting focal point for drama and comedy, with all the pageantry and energy that went into the events.
Q: Is there some pre-determined structure or guideline for the actors?
A: No. The plot and characters will be created new every night. We won’t reuse anything that has come up in previous nights.
Q: How will you rehearse such a show?
A: Our rehearsals will be about the actors practicing awareness of each other’s contributions so they can add to and on top of what’s being created. We also have a dramaturge who is assembling background information about the time and place that the actors can draw on for inspiration.
Q: What else will help shape the show?
A: We’ll have a rack of costumes for the actors to choose from, and there will be improvised lighting. We’ve also selected 10 songs from the period, which the cast will perform. Not all songs will be used each night and those selected will depend on the situation that has developed. There will be original live music improvised as well.
Q: What do you want audiences to take away from the show?
A: The appeal should be recognizing the danger of such a “flying trapeze” act. There won’t be audience suggestions for characters and situation, just the actor’s imaginations. The goal is to give the impression the show is fully scripted rather than improvised.
Q: What do you hope Little Green Pig will get out of this experience?
A: We think we’ve created a new improv format. The combination of historical background research, period songs and the particular techniques we’ve developed to enhance the action make this a different approach to improv. Eventually, we want to teach the “Lake Placid” method to other troupes and theaters here and overseas.
What: “Lake Placid”
Where: The Fruit Company, 305 South Dillard St., Durham
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 24-25, Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2, Dec. 7-9; 7 p.m. Nov.26
Info: 919-452-2304 or littlegreenpig.com