I’ve seen three new theater performances recently. I mean, December 2015 still counts as recently, right? It doesn’t? Well, then it’s about time to have a Theater Thursday post! Actually, at the time of posting, my calendar says it’s Friday already (2 am), but it’s still Thursday somewhere, right? Hello, USA!
Okay, to my performances then. I saw two improv performances and one ancient Greek play. I’ve been surprised, captured and disappointed.
Pit – De Vloer Op
December 11, 2015
Theater group Pit is a quite well-known improvisation group in Nijmegen. Their shows are based on the concept De Vloer Op (translated: Get On Stage). De Vloer Op, which has its own TV shows, is truthful theater. Real, believable people, real props and always a tough dilemma. I love this format to the bone. That’s why it was quite surprising that I had never visited one of Pit’s theater shows before.
On December 11 I finally did. And I was not disappointed. I saw true relationships form in just a few seconds. I saw characters I really believed. I saw vulnerable scenes as well as very funny ones. A huge table filled with props was standing on the left side of the stage, along with a huge rack of clothes. I loved how they were used to give the scenes more dimension and the characters more… well, character. Pit also made sure no location ever looked the same. Even if it was yet another living room they would be playing in, they would get another table, or just change the angle of the table just to make it look different from the room before. That was not necessary, but it certainly added to the experience.
But what I admired most, was the way the actors portrayed their relationships. They did not overact, a thing that is so common in improvisation theatre. They acted truthfully, as if they were real people. Well, some more than others, but I definitely had a few favorites. They’d observe the scene carefully (without us audience noticing) and knew when to be quiet, when to agree with their counterpart or when to argue. They knew what was important in a scene and what was not, again something that is quite often overlooked in improv theater. They captured me and made me a fan.
I wanted to act like this as well. No more theatre sports with quirky cartoonish characters. No more avoiding kisses or even a simple tight cuddle when you play someone’s wife. No more terrible miming during scenes, but engaging with real objects instead. Acting real and truthfully while paying attention to what your fellow actors are doing. That is what I wanted. And it so happened Pit was having auditions. So I applied.
And that’s when my experience started to go bad. I wanted to join this group so badly, that I completely froze during the scenes. I didn’t make choices, and if I did, they were lame, overly careful ones, I didn’t show guts and I hardly spoke or stood out. I felt worse each minute, and I was totally overthinking everything. That’s the worst you can do when improvising. Obviously I wasn’t chosen as their new actor. Totally understandable. But I wanted to know I had tried everything, so I emailed them explaining the situation, and I asked them if they’d give me a second chance. The reply was harsh. They wouldn’t give me a second chance. Not because they didn’t like my acting, but because they didn’t like me as a person. And they didn’t tell me that in a friendly way.
A week later I found out they hadn’t chosen anyone. They just didn’t saw that ‘special thing’ they were looking for. Well, I have seen the others and there were some amazing actors between them. Not choosing any of them is having a bit too much of a Hollywood attitude, in my opinion. Combined with the nasty reply they had given me, my respect for this group had dropped majorly.
I wish I could say I’d love to see this group again. They are really talented and I actually would love to see such a talented improv group again. But I wouldn’t go to Pit anytime soon anymore, I’m afraid. There’s just too much of a hangover, I guess.
Theater group Lens – Hippolytos
December 20, 2016
Close to Christmas, I saw a very ancient play played by theater group Lens: Hippolytos. It’s a very old Greek tragedy about a young man being cursed by the goddess Aphrodite. What was different about this play was that is wasn’t different at all. Most ancient plays performed nowadays are revised greatly. The language is being spruced up quite a bit, scenes are being rewritten or even cut out of the play entirely and in the Othello version I played, I got to play a character Shakespeare hadn’t even created. But this Hippolytos had no revisions. The language had been left intact, every scene was present as well as every character. I got a bit scared by this, because there is a reason why old plays get revised.
It turned out, I had nothing to worry, though. The play started super interesting immediately, by an intense beat of a percussionist on which all characters danced. This percussionist rocked big time. What a great choice to add that to a play! It added so much to the atmosphere.
They also had a great use of the stage. A lot of the times, the actors would move in a certain choreography, which made it very interesting to watch. There was also a large piece of décor the actors could climb on. The goddesses used this to look down on the people. It was great to see Aphrodites smirk as she watched how Hippolytos got himself into more trouble every minute.
The acting could have been stronger at times. Some actors sounded as if they were reading their lines rather then feeling them. This could very well have something to do with the fact that they used language that isn’t quite standard these days anymore. If the language is not fitting you as a person, it is way more difficult to feel it as an actor. Some of the actors were very good though, regardless of the old language. To me, the ones that stood out most were Hippolytos and his father.
It’s worth mentioning that the actors managed to rehearse this performance in only three months, if I am not mistaken. That alone was baffling. To get your actors at this level, with so many choreographies and difficult lines, that is truly remarkable. A big shout-out to their director Jurriaan Kamp for this. Also for his choices of décor and the amazing percussionist.
This was an amazing performance to watch. It surprised me on many levels and it gave me ideas on how to get my own future plays to a higher level. This was a great performance to watch both as a theater lover and a theater creator.
Ongezouten Peper – Schemergasten
February 27, 2016
Last month I went to see Ongezouten Peper for their show Schemergasten (Guests of the Nightfall). Can you remember I went to a theater performance Nachtgasten (Guests of the Night) last year? In short, Nachtgasten is an improv longform where every actor gets a backstory and a few secrets, but they only get it at the beginning of the performance and they don’t get to hear the story of the other actors. The audience hears everything, though. This is also a format where the actors are supposed to act truthfully.
I was told that Schemergasten would be a mixture of this Nachtgasten and the above format De Vloer Op. So basically it would be performance of truthful acting with secrets for every actor, acted out in short stories. This sounded perfect! I needed to see this! So I went all the way to Breda, which is located at the other side of the Netherlands. I know, to the rest of the world our whole country is only the size of a pinhead, but to us Dutchies, this is a very big deal. It’s a one-hour drive people. One hour! Seriously, we don’t do these kind of things unless it’s super worth it.
So there I was, in far-away Breda, with very high expectations of what I was going to see. And what I saw was… theatre sports. The scenes where short with exaggerated acting, aimed to make the audience laugh. They were definitely talented theatre sport actors, but I hadn’t come all the way to Breda to see theatre sports. So it started of with disappointment.
On top of that, the presenter, Bart Brouwers acted as a director during the performance. He announced beforehand that he would freeze the scenes and shout directions whenever he deemed necessary, which indeed he did. He also let them play the same scenes over and over again, with a slight adjustment. This may have been interesting for people who are not acting themselves, I wouldn’t really know. But for me it was like attending theater rehearsal, with the only exception I wasn’t allowed to play. It didn’t feel as a performance to me, but as exercises the actors had to do. Again, they did it with talent, but again, I hadn’t come here to see that. I tried to let go of my expectations and accept the fact that I was watching a theatre sport performance instead. This helped a little bit, as the actors did a great job. My favorite actors where Marjolein Hutting (and not just because I know her) and Lieven de Clercq. Marjolein, because she played most truthfully in my eyes , and Lieven, because he had a huge overview of all the scenes and always knew exactly how he could enhance the scene with his presence.
In the break I talked with one of the actors, who assured me that the truthful acting and the longer story would be played after the break. I wouldn’t have to worry. There was indeed a longform after the break. The format sounded pretty cool. The actors would be on stage in duos each time. One of them would go away at the end of their scene and then we would see a scene with the actor that stayed and a new one. We would see a small part of each of their lives.
The format was cool. But I still saw theatre sport actors performing it. There still was no truthful acting. Well, perhaps from time to time, but mostly I saw actors acting instead of characters coming to life. Furthermore, the input for the characters was asked in between each scene, not beforehand. This resulted in the story being interrupted so many times, thus also breaking the flow. I could not see it as a true longform with so many interruptions. Yet it wasn’t a shortform either, since in the end it was one story. I was confused. And to be honest, still a bit disappointed that I didn’t get my truthful acting. But I decided to let that go for now and just enjoy the very different, but still entertaining performance.
But then I got disappointed again. The actors blocked. Hugely! Rule number one in improv acting is that blocking is not allowed. That what has been defined, is the truth. Well, a bar had been clearly defined, along with the actual bartender playing along. He had poured beer for the actor, there was a conversation about the trip getting him here And the actor asked if he was first to arrive. Then is son came in, as a small child, which is doubtful as it is in a café. But it could still work. Until the son redefined the room as the father’s attic! The father had to work his ass of to explain why on earth he had a bar with a bartender in his attic.
Another huge blocking moment was when a new scene started and the actress that joined the scene portrayed herself as well as the other actress as crazy. Seen what had happened in the prvious scene with this actress, this was an interesting development. The actress was a bit confused about her crazy counterpart and clearly did not like her. This also worked very well in the scene. But the suddenly she talked to an imaginary director and said this scene didn’t work. She made her character an actress who was recording a movie or a play. By doing this, she threw away everything that had been difined, her whole development as a character, the relationship with her fellow actress, everything. Basicaly she said: ‘Nah, everything you just watched was fake.’ That was such a shame! The scene wouldn’t even have had to exist then. Imagine Harry Potter in the eight movie walking up to Voldemort saying: ‘Dude, let’s leave the set and have a drink.’ Wouldn’t you feel betrayed for watching the previous movies?
Okay, so the actors blocked threw away the platform their fellow actors had created. This bugged me, but to be honest, these things can happen in improv theater. Sometimes we just don’t get what the other actor tries to create. But where was the director now? In the first half, Bart had intervened so much, even at times where it wouldn’t have been necessary. But now that these actors threw away what had been created, he kept silent. I really didn’t understand. If there was ever a time during this whole performance where he should have intervened, it would have been now.
Still, even while being blocked by their counterparts, the actors managed to work around it and to create a story that fitted the blocking. I have to give them that. And there were also some very beautiful scenes in which the actors did pay close attention to each other. They just weren’t the truthful scenes I had expected. I certainly didn’t recognize the formats of Nachtgasten or De Vloer Op (except for the use of real props). I may sound like I haven’t enjoyed this evening at all. That is not true though. In the end I have seen a very good theatre show with talented actors. I have enjoyed myself and I have laughed quite a few times. It just wasn’t what I’d signed up for…
Number of plays
You may remember that watching 25 theater performances is actually one of my 10 goals. And I am proud to say I’m almost there! These three performances bring my total to 20. I’ve even seen my 21st performance a couple of days ago, and I will see two more performances this month. But as I don’t want to turn this post into a complete novel, I’ll write about them on the next Theater Thursday.