To borrow, augment and abuse a phrase from the Bard: Friends, Floridians, countrymen, lend me your ears … The Improvised Shakespeare Company is bringing its impertinent act to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this weekend.
The Chicago-based troupe makes up an entire play, riffing on Shakespeare’s works and audience suggestions. Something wickedly funny this way comes.
“The first thing everyone should know is that we don’t know what is going to happen that night anymore than the audience does,” company member Joey Bland says. “We will ask the audience to tell us the title of the show that night. Then, we present it as a long-lost masterpiece from Shakespeare. We perform the play as if we know it, but we’re making it up as we go along … and our name suggests.”
Coming to South Florida are Bland, Brendan Dowling and founder Blaine Swen, who first helped germinate the idea in Los Angeles as part of another company called the Backstreet Bards. Wildly popular on the circa-1999 West Coast improv scene, Swen in 2001 moved the concept to Chicago, where he was studying at Loyola University. Today, there are 18 to 20 active members in the group.
“They are all a microcosm of the improv groups in Chicago at large,” Bland says. “And it’s funny, but I don’t think one of us is actually from Chicago. For example, Blaine is from California, and Brendan is from Massachusetts. I’m from Virginia. The only place where we don’t have someone from is South Florida.”
Aside from the improvisational performance background, what the troupe has in common is a deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s canon. And they work to keep it all on point.
“We’ve done our homework. I always say that we serve the improv before we serve the Shakespeare,” Bland says. “But we give each other vocabulary quizzes. Generally once a month or every six to eight weeks, we go see this professor at Loyola who [teaches] philosophy and Shakespeare, and an English professor who is a Shakespeare scholar, and we sit down with them, and it’s like a one-day seminar. We get a ton out of it. They give us insights that we never would have thought of. And we give them more fun that the average [student]. Now, they’re suggesting things that we might do — you know, saying, ‘You could put this in the show.’”
Like those from the Elizabethan era, this company is all male.
“It just works out that way. As the group developed, it was all guys. It had a Monty Python, Kids in the Hall feel. And it’s funny when we do these female characters,” Bland says.
In addition to the evening performance, the company will present “Improvised Shakespeare: Shake It Up!” as a Smart Stage Matinee for students in grades 6 to 12 at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 18, in the Amaturo Theater. Individual tickets cost $7. Student group tickets cost $6, and lap seats for infants cost $3.
The cast will also conduct “The Improvised Shakespeare Company Workshop,” teaching the rules of Elizabethan dialogue and how to use the prose in improvisation scenes at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19 in the Abdo New River Room. Tickets cost $15.
IF YOU GO
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: $25 and $35 ($20 student tickets at box office with ID at pickup)
Contact: 954-462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org.