Usually actors use improv for warmup exercises before practising their scripts. But the Paper Street Theatre company does the opposite.
To prepare for their latest show, An Improvised Samuel Beckett, five local improvisers read Beckett’s scripts in rehearsals then threw away the lines to create a completely new, improvised play live on stage.
“We try to create a play that’s like something Beckett would have written himself,” artistic director Dave Morris explained. “This isn’t a parody of his work, it’s a homage.”
Beckett, who died in 1989, is best known for penning Waiting for Godot and Krapp’s Last Tape. He was among the European playwrights who pioneered theatre of the absurd, a genre that defined hopelessness, where characters realize the world has no meaning and they’re stuck in an endless routine.
It may sound depressing, but Morris promises the show will at least be funnier than the group’s inaugural offering, An Improvised Tennessee Williams, which they performed last summer based on the writer of Streetcar Named Desire.
“If you like dark humour, you’ll get some laughs from the show,” Morris said.
The cast – which includes Morris, Missie Peters, Chris Gabel, Scott Thompson and Byron Kjeldsen – wear overcoats and bowler hats to get into character. They’ve all studied Beckett’s style and where he got his inspiration.
On stage, the characters adopt Beckett’s bleak outlook on life.
They use physical comedy in place of words, and when they do speak it’s in quick sentences, offering sullen insight into the human condition.
It’s not what you expect to see when you go to an improv show.
“Usually improv focuses on narrative and storytelling, and making people laugh,” Morris said. “With Beckett, he creates these dark worlds where nothing happens, and there’s not a lot of dialogue.”
Morris says he wants to challenge himself and his fellow improvisers with works outside their usual style.
“We want to create improv that feels like theatre,” he said. “Our goal is to make the audience forget we’re improvising.”
So, why not just work from a script? “Because I’d get bored,” Morris said. “With script work you only really get to be creative in the early stages of rehearsals and then it’s always the same. With improv we’re creating something new every night. No two shows are ever the same.”
An Improvised Samuel Beckett runs Nov. 17 and 18, 8 p.m., at the Intrepid Theatre, 1609 Blanshard St. Tickets are $12 at the door.