The Premise: Ask well-known writers to pen two pages of a play, read them cold onstage, then improvise the rest of the play on the spot.
It’s the kind of thing that could go very, very wrong if the players weren’t very, very good.
Fortunately the players are The National Theatre of The World, aka Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson.
Last year’s run was a smashing success, with works by Judith Thompson, Daniel MacIvor, and everyone’s favourite hemp merchant, Woody Harrelson. Now they’re back with a fresh batch of writers, including ex-Kid In The Hall, Scott Thompson.
I asked Naomi Snieckus for the low-down.
P&C: How did you come up with the idea?
NS: The Script Tease Project was invented to give a twist to our regular Impromptu Splendor format, to give us an extra challenge and to collaborate with excellent playwrights. NTOW is always looking for ways of incorporating theatre and improv in our work.
P&C: Do you know all the playwrights you’ve approached, or were some of them cold calls?
NS: We essentially made a wish list and sent letters. Edward Albee turned us down – but now I can say “I got an email from Edward Albee…or at least his assistant.” John Patrick Shanley from last year was through a friend of a friend of a friend. There were a lot of people we’d never met before but hoped they would be into a project like this.
P&C: What was your favourite play from last year, and why?
NS: That’s hard to choose they all had a different kind of magic. Mark McKinney’s was the weirdest and most stylized, Brad Fraser’s was the most fantastical, John Patrick Shanley’s was the most touching. They were all amazing for different reasons.
P&C: Do you find it easier having someone else establish your character for you, or is it harder than doing a regular improv show?
NS: The biggest challenge is processing the torrent of information in the two pages and retaining it. It’s harder than starting from scratch because you have to adhere to a specific structure with a particular tone and musical key. The playwright is making your original choices for you. It sounds helpful to be given the two pages, but it makes our brains work in a new and different way.
P&C: You’ve been playing together for a long time. How important is chemistry in putting on a great performance?
NS: We’ve put in hundreds of hours together, so the shorthand and like-mindedness has become quite keen. We also know how to challenge each other on stage to mix it up. So to answer your question: very. It’s a pretty exciting thing to share the stage with those two performers!
The show runs May 28 – June 3 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace.