Improv is a journey that the performers and audience take together. Unlike traditional theatre, it does not go through extensive casting, costuming, or rehearsals. Shows that have been through that process will feel more complete and might be easier to watch. However, the beauty of improv comes from that on-the-spot creativity you experience comparatively to rehearsed shows that will not have that same element of spontaneity. It is imperative that the audience keeps this in the forefront of their mind when watching an improvised performance. Otherwise, it can feel as if the actors are underprepared or incompetent for their roles. At times, it can even be frustrating that the fluidity of the plot isn’t maintained throughout the show. Nonetheless, one must remember there is no set plot beforehand, and this is a compromise the audience makes when choosing to see a live improv show. The show you see one night will be completely different than the show another person sees the next. The beauty of improv is that it cannot be duplicated.
Horror Unexpected is a completely improvised horror story portrayed by actors that, like their audience, have no idea what is going to happen next. The show began by taking suggestions from the audience for a place we spent a lot of time growing up and something our home town is famous for. In the performance I experienced, The World’s Largest Porch Swing and the Everest Mall Arcade were suggested. Three performers began incorporating the porch swing into their scene, while another three actors began their scene at the Everest Mall. The Unexpected Productions performers turned these two places into a scary tale of an arcade and small town attraction gone wrong when reality and a game became one.
Though half of the cast wasn’t on stage during the alternating scenes, actors still participated by jumping on stage at any given time to incorporate spooky details by shouting out stage directions such as, “Slowly, all the different LED game lights went out.” As the show progressed, the two scenes collided and the audience learned all the characters were related in some way.
This was a fantastic way of combining what seemed to be two separate story lines. However, because the cast was limited to six people, a couple of actors took on multiple roles. At times, I found it difficult to distinguish when an actor had switched between their roles. Fellow performers also had difficulty with identifying when an actor had switched roles, and despite this, they would continue with a scene. I think that this was a sacrifice that needed to be made even though it sparked confusion. Overall, the story benefited from more characters.
Having done improv before, I understand the difficulty of keeping the continuity of the plot, remembering all of the characters, and maintaining engaging dialogue. The decision to split the cast up also forced them to divide their energy between two separate performances. This created more opportunities for their creative voices. Because they had to remember everything that happened in the other scene, though, minor details like characters’ names and relationships were lost.
In addition, because the actors had different ideas of how the show was going to develop, it caused confusion for both the performers and audience. The disorganization of the show was anticipated as it is an intrinsic part of improv. However, I wouldn’t have split the cast up from the get-go. I think the story would’ve evolved more smoothly if only one suggestion for a setting was taken.
The concept of having an improvised horror show piqued my curiosity as an avid horror fanatic, since I’ve been conditioned to the genre having jump scares and suspense. Because improv is extemporized, I questioned how fear could be portrayed. Though jump scares weren’t incorporated, they were still able to portray elements of fear using lighting, music, and creepy concepts. I particularly enjoyed the ad-lib of a mysterious dragon overlord who was the reason the video game and real-life had been distorted.
The arts took a blow during the pandemic, and I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to experience this original and impromptu spooky evening in-person, thanks to the talented people at Unexpected Productions.
Horror Unexpected: Spooky Sundays played October 10 - 17 2021. For more information see here.
Lead photo credit: Photo by Bill Grinnell
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