Listen A show evolves to open again Euan Kerr Minnesota Public Radio Over the last nine months, Minnesota theatergoers have had a rare opportunity to witnessing the evolution of a theater piece developed almost entirely through improvisation. "The War Within
May 24, 2012
Over the last nine months, Minnesota theatergoers have had a rare opportunity to witness the evolution of a theater piece developed almost entirely through improvisation.
"The War Within" started as a University of Minnesota theater class, but is now a fully fledged play performed by a professional theater company.
The play's first rehearsals back in September weren't terribly inspiring. But "The War Within" struck a chord and packed in the crowds in November at the Rarig Center. It was a dark farce featuring a series of loosely connected sketches of commentary on absurdities in life and the workplace.
It's unusual in this day and age for a production to have this extensive of a reworking. Between the two shows the material had 12 weeks of rehearsal, roughly double what most shows get. It's a model to which the Moving Company is firmly committed.
It all began back in September, In an early rehearsal, a group of university theater students grunt loudly as they warm up with Dominique Serrand of the Moving Company. As improvisations began, he freely admitted that this show was a voyage into the unknown.
"We don't know what it's going to end up being," Serrand said. "We don't know. We know it's about the war. Not the war in Afghanistan, not the war in Iraq, but the war within."
Serrand means the small but endless wars of daily existence, the awful pettiness of office politics and corporate culture, of love and infatuation. In other words: just life.
The students took ideas and worked them through, repeatedly. A month later, after several weekly rehearsals they had a show about the office from hell.
"We, at corporate are all about environmental synergation," declared a tour-guide with a bad case of corporate speech-mangling.
As new employees toured the workplace, the guide is so disconnected he is unsure of his own name.
"Today my name is Clive. That is spelt C-L-I-V-V-E," he declared. "And we are walking and walking and walking..." he intones as they walk on.
There is the tour, and a feud between three office cubicle mates which escalated to violence. But then when one of them died, no one noticed.
There is also a tirade about how the former Chair of the Federal Reserve Allen Greenspan was to blame for everything from the debt crisis to failed romances, and kitchen disasters.
"Have you ever tried to open a jar of pickles, and it was just too tight? Alan-freaking-Greenspan!" the actor roars.
Steve Epp of the Moving Company's said in September they planned to continue developing the piece.
"We build off of that work, so in the spring at the Southern, we'll do this show with our pool of actors," Epp said.
This time, as part of the new "War Within," actor Nathan Keepers pushes a lighting hoist around the stage of the Southern Theater.
"I've said it before, and I'll say it again. No-one around here listens to anything I've got to say," he mutters.
Badly shaven and hair askew, he's the kind of blowhard many people avoid. He raises the platform and proceeds to pontificate.
"Budgets should be tightened and pants should be loosened. Let everyone worry about their own damn pants," he spouts. His speech becomes increasingly outrageous and insulting to the point where it collapses under the weight of its own idiocy.
The play's cast of professional actors is joined by three of the students from the original production. Director Serrand says the characters are rounded out but the play, at its anarchic heart, remains the same.
"And so it looks a little bit more like there is a story - although there is not a story. It's the story of our stupidity," Serrand said.
The tour is still in the show. So is the bit about the three warring cubicle mates. Student Sam Kruger plays the one who ends up dead," Serrand said. "But now his character is the subject of an office romance, despite being deceased. He's loved watching the show develop.
"It's very fun to see what happened to something that you did so long ago," he said.
They did a similar project at University of Southern California last year, and will do another in North Carolina in the fall. Serrand said he was almost intimidated by the creativity of the young actors from the university. He hopes they have learned some things too. He calls it "passing the hand," teaching skills to the next generation of actors.
"But you can't do it through auditions," he said. "You have to do it by putting them in the tub. You know, 'here's the play. Go play.' And then you see."
"The War Within" may continue to evolve, although Serrand said they won't decide which direction to go until the end of the run at the Southern. However, he is thinking about film.