Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

One of the things that makes Desert Star unique among theaters is that we allow our actors to improvise, or change their lines, on stage.  This adds a fun feeling that anything can happen during the show.  At other theatres, tampering with the playwright’s original lines is strictly prohibited.  This is not an issue at Desert Star, because we write our own shows.  We have the philosophy that a group of talented comedic actors can take a good script and make it even better. 
One of our actors who really enjoys improvising is Richie T Steadman.  Richie has been performing regularly at Desert Star since 2002, and has appeared in 25 productions.  He’s currently playing the part of Johnny Angel in our Christmas show “It’s A Wonderful Life.” We sat down and talked with Richie T about the art of improv.
“One of the things I love most about improvisation,” said Richie, “Is that all the people—both on stage and in the audience—who make up the chemistry of that moment, will never happen again.  It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.  I also love that improvising garners a response from the other person or actor that is not manufactured beforehand, but is specific to the time and circumstances of the moment.  I think that’s why the audiences enjoys improv—because they see a genuine, unrehearsed moment.”
Richie T with Dan Larrinaga in "Indiana Bones" (2008)

Richie has performed with many comedy troupes in Salt Lake, where he has honed his improv skills. He also studied improv at Second City, a prestigious acting academy in Chicago, which has been the training ground for such famous comedians as Steven Colbert, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, and Jane Lynch from Glee. 
Richie T with Megan Rees in "Pirates Of The Car-rib-eee-an" (2010)

“My time at Second City was great,” said Ritchie.  “The classes I took were essentially a university setting for people interested in comedy. They do sketch comedy, which is what you see during the olio at Desert Star, but they base it on improv.  Everyone comes with an idea of a character and a situation, and then they improv it.  They film what happens, then write down what they discovered while they improved and build shows based on that.  
Richie T with Kerstin Davis in "Spamlet" (2007)

“One of the most important things I took away from the classes is to be present. Be in the moment and recognize what’s going on. Traditional theater would tell you to ignore when something unexpected happens and move on, get past it even.  For instance, if someone drops a tray or there is a really loud noise that everyone can hear.  But improv says to use those elements to help move the story along in a fun way. 
Richie T in "Twilite" (2010)

“One of the most challenging things about improv is knowing when to stop. It can very easily become a game of one-upmanship. Though in some performing venues that can be an appropriate thing, at Desert Star there is a script and a story that needs to be told. The improvised or ad-libbed line is not the focus and can detract from the show if an actor goes over the limit. Finding that line is sometimes a challenge for me personally, but there is definitely a limit.”
Richie T performing Flashdance in the "One Hit Wonders" Olio (2007)
Improv mixed with scripted comedy is one of the elements Desert Star audiences love.  When the audience can tell an actor has departed from the script and is winging it, it creates a unique feeling of anticipation, and if the ad-lib is witty and clever enough, it can bring down the house in a way no scripted moment can.  
You can see Ritchie T Steadman and other talented Desert Star actors performing in our next show, “CSI: Provo,” which opens January 12.  

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