clare beresford, shamira turner, dominic turner
matt baram, ron pederson, naomi snieckus
national theatre of the world photo by skye regan
If you have been following this blog even haphazardly you will likely know that I consider Canadian theatre artists to be among the best in the world. That being said, however, it is just as inspiring and equally as important to have the opportunity to see performances created by world-class performers from all around the world, as in the case of Little Bulb Theatre (from England)’s production of Crocosmia which played at Theatre Passe Muraille last week. At the same time, it seems as though the ideal situation is for our theatre companies to bring Canadian artists together with their International compatriots to forge creative alliances and to learn and to play with one another. Andy McKim, Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille, did just that when he realized that Little Bulb Theatre develops their work largely through Improvisation and thus arranged for them to meet with the National Theatre of the World, who produce the fully improvised play series Impromptu Splendor, and provided them with the opportunity for their companies to collude and to create something entirely unique that combined and showcased both them and their artistic processes.
And thus, The National Bulb of the Little World came to be. As someone who has seen Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson improvise an exorbitant amount, I have become quite familiar with the process for Impromptu Splendor and their typical improvisational habits, tendencies, penchants and styles and so it was fascinating and exciting to watch them experimenting within the parameters of an entirely different improvisational experience. The performers from Little Bulb Theatre are Clare Beresford, Dominic Conway and Shamira Turner and on top of their many talents, they are all magnificently musical. Therefore, this Splendor began with some impromptu jazz with a guitar (Conway), harmonica (Turner) and xylophone (Beresford) and Ron Pederson learned to play the melodica (quite well in fact).
Little Bulb Theatre uses improvisation as part of their rehearsal process and they are guided in the creation of their characters and their scenarios by their very talented director Alexander Scott. Their improvisation leads them to the creation of a scripted play with choreography and blocking, while Impromptu Splendor, whose improvised plays are performed as single theatrical marvels for an audience, does not make use of a director or a script. In this particular conglomeration the company improvised their piece for the audience while having their ideas guided and shaped by Scott who coached and directed them from the side of the stage.
The result was a captivating evening watching Snieckus and Pederson adapt and thrive under Scott’s direction and watching Turner, Conway and Beresford adapt and revel in their natural talents as improvisers in front of an audience. Scott began the piece with an interpretive dance entitled “Swan Thief”, inspired from a pre-show chat with the audience, and it became clear that the Little Bulb performers develop many of their ideas and characterizations through physical exploration and interaction. They have the ability to throw themselves into the throes of dance and interpretive movement utterly seamlessly and with reckless abandon. At one point Scott instructed Turner, Beresford and Snieckus to create a dance called “Dance to Husbands” and Beresford was particularly mesmerizing and skilled. It is clear that she has dance training as her confidence in her movements and the effortless way she transitioned from each of her specific and well-timed movements gave the definite illusion of forethought. I found it so interesting that Ron Pederson’s inclination during the Swan dance was to become the narrator. Most of Pederson’s Improv characters are quite literary and he tends to build his characters instinctively from their voices and their vocabularies, focusing specifically on the words that they chose to express themselves with. Scott drew Pederson into the dance and then had him do a dance with Dominic Conway entitled “Ode to Wife” which turned into an interpretive ballet in which a strong partnership developed between the two and they both shone strongly with zest and confidence. Snieckus was then given a solo dance on the theme of a Fibre One Commercial which was one of the most brilliant and hilarious things I have ever seen her do (amid a gigantic array of past brilliant and hilarious things).
When working with dialogue, Scott would ask the improvisers’ characters questions to help develop their personalities and personal history or give them suggestions such as saying, “You can’t explain what has happened to you” or “What do you have to say for yourself?” or “Change your accent.” Having the opportunity to watch the improvisers react to Scott’s guidance was particularly fascinating and it provided an incredible insight into what questions an improviser could ask herself if she is feeling stuck in a scene or with her character’s development. Other highlights of the evening included Pederson’s caricature of the Canadian Playwright, Turner and Beresford’s Newfie lesbians with the wandering accents, Conway’s brilliant Goblin boy and Snieckus’ conversations with her imaginary friend and her imaginary husband. By far the most impressive act of the night was Clare Beresford’s impromptu song “The Long Winding Walk” which was tightly, and by times very cleverly, rhymed, utterly coherent and brilliantly inspired. Beresford’s ingenuity and swiftness as a performer is most impressive.
The combination of The National Theatre of the World and Little Bulb Theatre gave rise to a dynamic and intriguing evening at the theatre where the audience became privy to a process that does not typically travel outside the rehearsal hall. At the same time, it was an opportunity for the five performers to spread their wings and drive headlong out of their comfort zones, which sharpened the sense of danger and adventure for the audience. Even in knowing one another for a few days and performing only one show together, I think that each of the members of The National Bulb of the Little World grew artistically, learned significantly and walked away from their experience together as stronger improvisers. I sincerely hope that this is only the first of many collaborations between these two fine companies whose combined talents and expertise shine stunningly on one another.