During the press conference, Matt Besser said that the shows that happen before midnight demonstrate the ‘art’ and the shows that happen after are wilder.
Of the primetime shows on Friday that followed the press conference, the ones populated with older gentlemen were played slower and steadier. The monoscenes presented in Bassprov and Nailed Down grew richer as the half hour slot wore on, using the time to effuse the characters like steeping tea bags, and the payoffs were in the nuance and detail that a fast moving montage cannot brake for. They also bore information to ponder: did you know that cigarettes are the most abundant form of pollution wafting through the oceans (Bassprov) and that the head can blush because it has many more blood vessels? According to a character in Nailed Down, our arms do not blush for that reason. While Bassprov was a fishing expedition that kept its four men in chairs with fishing poles and beers as props, Nailed down was set up by having two pairs of shoes nailed to the stage for players to stand in. Those slow, ponderous, and absorbing shows provoked physically immobile players to explore psychological spaces.
In contrast, Gausus and Cannon was full of storm and stress. Sincere and swift, that set had some unexpected surprises such as the embodiment of a barren cow’s yearning for children as a means to not be slaughtered unceremoniously while the fertile cow envisioned being eaten by a masseuse in a Whole Foods parking lot.
While that show was more character driven, the Stepfathers show demonstrated how creating patterns and callbacks that tie all strings of a show neatly together can be a cognitive feat for the performers and rewarding exercise for the audience.
On Saturday, Bruckheimer carried a show proficiently with only two of its three members present, and even had one player do double duty as a third character to flesh out the monoscene. While delving into the spiraling neurosis of a violent, compulsive liar, Bruckheimer followed an escalating problem that dragged down of all those involved and was a delight to watch.
In his extended time slot, Scott Adsit went it alone by inviting audience members to improvise with him. A language barrier with one visiting audience member made for a fun scene where he was prompted by the ship captain (Adsit) to seduce an iceberg. In cases like that, a seemingly impossible task makes for great entertainment.
Away from the mainstage, a show titled Facebook employed a laptop and a big screen to display the Facebook page of a volunteer from the audience. The technology was integrated seamlessly into the show and begs the question of what other virtual means will work with improv. Is anyone doing Twitterprov?
Back on the mainstage, the after midnight sets were opened with The Benson Interruption, which switched gears and invited comics on stage to be interviewed by Doug Benson. Relying on energetic impressions for the first half and comedic songs for the second, the show made for a surprising break from what preceded it. If you haven’t seen Garfunkel and Oates, their songs are fun and bawdy while their appearance is innocuous.
In The Straight Men, seasoned improvisors had fun giving a lesson in what happens when everyone on stage acts like a straight man by calling out what is unusual and grounding everything they do. While one straight character can be a great foil, a stage full of them makes the gears grind and watching this show was like being included in an inside joke. And it only used half of a regular 30 minute slot to get this point across.
Each form, when executed well, leaves the viewer with a different impression. In the montage presented by Kannon and Gausus, it was the pathos of a particular moment that wouldn’t go away after their set ended, while the Stepfathers’ show cued the viewer into the map of the show that only presented itself fully at the end when all pieces were integrated into a whole. In both cases, the mind gets to work towards understanding and engage in the way that the form encourages. In yet another style, the Bassprov show and the Nailed Down set treated each character like a well detailed creation that became more absorbing as time went on, giving first the thrill of knowing a character and eventually the payoff of conflict.
As the DCM expands the idea of what improv is while refining what already exists, the revolving palette of shows makes the experience eventful and stimulating.