Wes Anderson, the filmmaker of notable movies like The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, inspired the team at Jet City Improv to design the show Yes Anderson—based off of a social media following of Anderson’s called “Accidentally Wes Anderson.” After hearing about the basis of this show, the questions that arose weren’t “How would Jet City Improv accomplish this?” or “What led them to attempt this challenge?” Rather, my initial thought was, “What is ‘Accidentally Wes Anderson’?” More commonly referred to as Accidental Anderson, as was revealed after a quick Google search, it’s a website where people post pictures of places that look like they could have been ripped straight out of an Anderson film.
Because I haven’t seen many of Wes Anderson’s works, I wondered if this show would prove applicable to an audience unfamiliar with the context, like myself. As the show began, I quickly realized it’s broadly relatable. From the beginning, the Anderson style wasn’t forced into the show and flowed well with the sudden, random changes in plot that improv provides.
Although no direct or obvious connections to Anderson’s films are made, the show incorporates many different stylistic elements that Anderson uses in his movies. From the quirky characters and costumes, to the purposefully chosen backgrounds and set design, the stage is not only interesting to look at, but also peculiar in an intentional way.
The symmetrical staging and slow pacing of the speech, according to ensemble members Austin Olsen and Sky Boggs, were based directly off of Wes Anderson’s films. The dysfunctional relationships and deliberate to-the-point dialogue made the show seem comparable to real life—which is the root of what Anderson’s films strive to achieve.
But it isn’t only the pre-planned and practiced techniques that the performers use that make the show fascinating and Anderson-esque. The improv element adds to the Wes Anderson themes, forcing the actors to act like human beings, rather than mere characters. The Anderson themes and improvisation seemed to blend seamlessly as the two styles built off each other—their similarities helping to make a cohesive production. As the performance progressed, awkward pauses were dispersed throughout comedic lines and physical humor to emphasize the concise language the actors exercised with every line, in an attempt to mimic another trait of Anderson’s films to detail.
The cast of Yes Anderson at Jet City Improv. Photo by Matthew Joseph.
An impromptu dance sequence at the climax of the plot was deemed “Everything I’ve dreamed for the whole show” by Boggs after the performance. The scene is made more captivating by one of the main characters, Florence, played by Greg Gerbus. Florence’s confidence contrasts the uncoordinated, improvised, four-person dance routine, providing an example of the grace the actors must use to balance the swift changes and unexpected turns the plot can take. Additionally, the slow-motion depiction and drama tie the rather sudden scene to the rest of the show, keeping it in line with Anderson’s characteristics, while still incorporating the freedom allowed by improv.
Every actor did their part to make this production interesting, understandable, and unforgettable. The supporting actors had some of the most memorable lines, even though they were only short snippets of side conversations. Also, their characters’ odd quirks were not too extreme, as to be beyond believability, but just ridiculous enough to be hilarious. The main characters held onto bits and pieces from the beginning of the show, reintroducing them to the audience at the end as something new and even funnier. The characters didn’t force conversation between each other, but rather let the silence and their facial expressions convey their emotions. Using such subtle devices made the performance more sophisticated, but still comical.
As a whole, Yes Anderson had many funny moments, typical to regular improv, but also incorporated sadder relationships and plot devices that made the story more serious, but also more memorable. The short scenes improv usually depicts contrasted with the show’s drawn-out plot, which enabled the actors and audience to become invested in the characters and their outcomes. As a result, the audience was left with a sense of finality that is not normally found in improv. The narrated ending was not evident of the cheeriness one expects from comedy, but instead, took a realistic look at a complex story—made up of unique and uncontrollable characters. Though the has show ended, the characters live on with freedom from a plot, as the narrator only hinted at what had become of them.
As Olsen said afterward, the only thing the actors know for sure is that the show will have a beginning and an end. The freedom this allows the actors is displayed through the uniqueness of every performance, and in giving them a chance to make the show whatever they want it to be. This mindset parallels reality, because every day we wake up only knowing that the day will end, and it is up to us to decide how it will go.