The ever-edgy Collaboration Theatre is at it again with a new comedy event. Dubbed a “late-night improv asylum,” "200 Funny Things" challenges seven actors to pull two hundred laughs from an audience without use of pre-existing script, premise or even traditional characters. Conceived and directed by Chicago director, actor and teacher Steven Ivcich. the show promises material to tickle your funny bone and challenge your grey matter.
Our Town What inspired "200 Funny Things?"
Steven Ivcich I wanted a performance environment that supported two distinct lines of experimentation; expanding the actor's expressive range beyond socially acceptable behaviors and creating a totally free, unstructured approach to improvisation. I decided this environment should be humor-based, because laughter gives the audience an opportunity to respond overtly to what's onstage. The viewer becomes the "other player" and that erases the formal boundary between actor and audience. I also wanted to find out if it's possible for the actor to engage the viewer with purely abstract content as opposed to the usual narrative devices like dialogue, plot structures and reality-based characters and situations.
OT Your rehearsal process involved the creation of entities as opposed to characters. What’s the distinction?
SI When you talk about a character in a play, you're really talking about a literary device deriving its existence from the words of the author and the situations implied by the plot. Unlike a literary character, an entity is not derived from words, [rather] from what the actor is experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. Essentially, the entity is a continuously evolving chain of experiences. Each time the actor evokes an entity it will be different because what they are experiencing at that moment is different. The entity can experience itself as human or subhuman or superhuman or not human it all. It's really an experiential universe that continuously unfolds in the consciousness of the actor. To one degree or other literary characters "make sense.” Entities do not. They are completely abstract, and yet, the audience comes to know them through the shared experience of that abstract behavior.
OT You say punch lines aren’t as funny as people.
SI They aren’t innately funny. Ask any standup comedian. If a line was innately funny, the audience would laugh every time the comedian said the line. The abstract interaction between comedian and audience is what gets the laugh. It just happens to do so in the neighborhood of the line being spoken.
OT So, how does one present a full person through unscripted improv?
SI Well, in the person of the actor you already have a full person. We're just expanding the expressive range of that person beyond the usual socially accepted norms of behavior so that the actor can morph into pretty much anything he or she wants to be.
OT What aspect of the show are you most excited about?
SI I came up with “200 Funny Things” because I love to laugh and I love to be among people who are laughing. Laughter is primitive. It might be even more primitive than sex. I don't think I've ever worked with an ensemble of actors more adventurous. They mastered a very steep learning curve with regard to the entity work and they did so in a very short time. With each performance they're unlocking new possibilities and at the same time getting the laughs. So far they made 200 laughs in every performance with time to spare.
For more information on “200 Laughs” or to learn more about the upcoming “Sketchbook REVERB," a compilation of the best work from the past ten years of the annual SKETCHBOOK Festival, visit collaboraction.org.
A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Our Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez