Improv and collaborative theatre take over the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto
This is NTOW’s third Script Tease Project, the first in association with Soulpepper. NTOW is Naomi Sniekus and Matt Baram, both talented actors and stellar improvisers. They ask playwrights (seven this year) to write two pages of a script. Each performance is a different playwright. Sniekus and Baram see the script for the first time at the beginning of the show. They do a cold reading of the two pages and improvise the rest of the one hour play. Last night the playwright was Judith Thompson.
I went with my daughter Megan (theatre grad). I love Baram and Sniekus and have been telling Meg for a couple of years that she should see them. She really liked the show. Thank goodness. Recommending a show or actors is like recommending a restaurant. There’s always the risk that they’ll be having an off night.
Another thing about going with Megan is that she notices things that I don’t; she articulates things that I take for granted.
Before the play starts Sniekus and Baram spend some time talking with the audience, building rapport. Last night Sniekus talked about her admiration for Judith Thompson, about how much she liked her work. She asked how many people in the audience were familiar with Thompson’s plays. Not that many of us actually. She talked about the dark themes, the dark humour, the surrealism, and the use of animals.
It was great for those of us who weren’t familiar with Thompson’s work; it gave us a bit of background. Not that you need to know anything about the playwright to enjoy the improvised play. Megan said that if you did you noticed the things that were very ‘Thompson’. Kind of a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ thing.
Megan also commented that we don’t often see actors drop into character. Usually a play starts and they are already in character. It was amazing to see Sniekus and Baram become Leanne and Bradley as soon as they started the cold reading; to see the immediate physical changes.
It impresses me that actors can make up an hour long play. I know it’s the result of exceptional talent, years of hard work, and a lot of research but to me it seems like magic.
If your idea of improvisation is a series of one-liners you really should see The Script Tease Project. Last night had everything you could want in a play. It was funny, it was serious. There was a plot and there was character development. If you didn’t know you wouldn’t think it was improvised.
In the improv tradition Sniekus and Baram ask the audience what’s happening in their lives. They’re looking for suggestions of things to include in the play. Meg and I both had a quibble; we felt that Matt possibly was pushing one of the audience members too hard for more information. Meg felt that it came close to crossing the audience participation line.
There are six more performances. Pick a playwright and go enjoy. It’s a diverse lot: Zaib Shaikh, Guillermo Verdecchias, Richard Greenblatt, Jason Sherman, Lewis Black, and Rick Mercer.
- The Script Tease Project is playing at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tankhouse Lane in the Disti8llery District) until Saturday, June 8
- Shows are at 8 pm on Wednesday and Thursday and at 7 pm and 9 pm on Friday and Saturday,
- Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students.
- Tickets are available online, at the box office, or by phone at 416-866-8666
Photo of Matt Baram and Naomi Sniekus by David Leyes