"There's no preset plot structure, there's no story template that we're basing anything on, there are no preset characters," says Brian Lohmann, associate artistic director for the Los Angeles-based Impro Theatre, about the group's shows, "Shakespeare Unscripted" and "Sondheim Unscripted." "We're studying the work of the writers and, like jazz musicians, cram our brains and bodies with it. Then we forget it, walk on stage as an ensemble and create."
"There's no preset plot structure; there's no story template that we're basing anything on; there are no preset characters," says Brian Lohmann, associate artistic director for the Los Angeles-based Impro Theatre, about the group's shows, "Shakespeare Unscripted" and "Sondheim Unscripted."
"We're studying the work of the writers and, like jazz musicians, cram our brains and bodies with it. Then we forget it, walk on stage as an ensemble and create."
Impro Theatre will present "Shakespeare Unscripted" on Wednesday, July 23, and Sunday, July 27, and "Sondheim Unscripted" on Friday, July 25, as part of Oregon Shakespeare Festivals' Green Shows. The free performances begin at 6:45 p.m. on the bricks in the OSF courtyard.
Lohmann, along with Impro's artistic director Dan O'Connor, founded San Francisco improv group Bay Area Theatresports in 1986. In 1988, O'Connor moved to Los Angeles and founded Los Angeles Theatresports, which became Impro Theatre in 2006 when the group made the switch from traditional improv to its current model of full-length, improvised plays.
"We evolved into a theatre company that is very unique," O'Connor says. "We study and rehearse a particular style, genre or author and then perform an improvised play that is very much like their work, but not something they wrote."
While the shows are all comedic in nature, they don't satirize the author's work.
"With Shakespeare, it's all done, for the most part, in iambic pentameter and Shakespearean prose," O'Connor says. "We're not doing Shakespeare in modern day Los Angeles. We're trying to do a 16th-century Shakespearean Italian comedy."
The actors take audience suggestions for a starting point at the beginning of the play. At the onset of the second half, the audience is reminded of the characters and picks two that will start the second half.
"That way, we can't plan ahead. We don't know what's going to happen, and the audience is in control," O'Connor says. "The audience's will is at stake, and they want to see the play succeed as much as we do."
The company started its "Unscripted" series with plays based on Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.
"Jane Austen really took off because so many people love her writing," Lohmann says.
"There's a real desire from people who have seen every Jane Austen movie, or read all of her novels, to see something new," O'Connor says. "It's the same with Shakespeare. 'Comedy of Errors' has probably been done 90 million different ways, but we'll get up and, essentially, improvise a brand new Shakespeare play."
Because of the improvisation, the company doesn't perform the same show twice.
"People come to multiple shows because they're never going to see the same play," O'Connor says. "There's something wonderful knowing that the play is just for you."
In addition to O'Connor and Lohmann, there will be four other actors and a musical director who will create the score for the Sondheim show.
"Part of what makes all of this possible is that everyone is a classically trained actor as well as a trained improvisor," Lohmann says. "Impro Theatre is really a place where improvisation meets theatre on its own terms and creates this new hybrid."