The Improvised Works of Bill Shakespeare

Dates Wednesday & Thursday @ 7:30pm Friday & Saturday @ 8:00pm Venue New Revue Stage, Granville Island

Reviewer Ed Farolan

Lights dim and Alistair Cook appears on a screen projected on the right side of the stage. Is this a coincidence that the narrator has the same name as the narrator of that long time PBS programme? Anyway, he gives us, in the fashion of the Masterworks Theatre narrator sitting by a fireplace, a brief introduction in that irritating loud sound system of the venue, about Shakespeare's encounter with an old Italian who briefs him on commedia dell'arte.

Bill is inspired by the improvisational techniques of the commedia, as he has run out of things to write about, and so embarks on this new approach to theatre. And thus, we are educated at the offstart on how improvisation was born -- not through Vancouver Theatre Sports, but through Shakespeare and his encounter with commedia dell'arte. If one recalls Hamlet, he found a travelling troupe of comedians to portray a play to catch the king who killed his father and wed his mother.

Then, Bill comes out and pays homage to the King and Queen (selected from the audience) dressed in robes and crowns and seated amongst us, the lords mixed with the groundlings. Bill in this set is played by Eric Fell (not the actor in the advertised VTSL poster). He then summons the actors who bow to the royal highnesses and to the crowd. In this set, the six improvisers are: Ted Cole, Mike Fly, Jeff Gladstone, Bill Pozzoborn, Randy Schooley, and Jennifer Wagner. I was told that different teams perform on different nights.

The interesting thing about improvisation is audience participation. In one portion, he gets a lady from the audience to play Juliet and with a bike horn; she toots at an actor who woos her in the famous balcony scene if his wooing technique falls below par.

In another instance, the audience is given teddy bears to throw at actors who stutter or whose lines don't meet Shakesperean standards as they improvise couplets. The first part of the performance consisted of scenes like these, a variety of small scenes suggested by the audience and performed à la Shakespeare.

After intermission, Bill informs the audience the troupe is going to perform a 30-minute comedy or tragedy, and he asks the audience who shouts "comedy" and "tragedy" in unison. Alack, Bill is confused and therefore asks the King and Queen to decide, to which they regally scream "Tragedy!"

Thus, tragedy it is and Bill points to a man in the audience and asks him his name and what his job is and where. He answers "Stanley, project manager in construction in Yaletown". With this in mind, The Tragedy of Stanley of Yaletown begins, and in the next 30 minutes, the audience is entertained with this "tragedy," as bodies pile up on stage in the Shakespearean tragic tradition.

This was an enjoyable show, and the audience cooperated quite well. Good timing, too, as Bard on the Beach is showing simultaneously. I admire the presence of mind of these actors. You need to be alert and focused to be an improviser, and you need training, of course, in the art of improvisation.

In fact, VTS gives training workshops. There are also other improv events at the Revue: "Ultimate Improv Championship" on Thursdays at 9:15 pm, "Laugh It Off" on Fridays and Saturdays at 10pm, and "Improv Extreme" on Fridays and Saturdays at 11:45 pm.

.© 2007 Ed Farolan