New library debuts with 'Experiment!'
Jazz musicians are forever tinkering with tunes: starting one, playing another, going back to the first. Lori Howard and Aaron Preusse wondered why actors couldn't do something similar. They have developed a theatrical equivalent, which they are calling Experimental Repertory. The first public performance of "The Experiment!" will be presented at the new Eisenhower Public Library on Wednesday evening, March 5.
"We have three scenes that we are performing, and what we do with 'The Experiment!' is improvise a new scene, creating new characters, using only dialogue from the scenes we've just performed," Howard explained. "You can't say whatever pops into your head like you might with traditional improv. You are restricted, or inspired, by the dialogue that you've just used."
The audience will play a role, perhaps choosing the relationship between the characters or the setting.
"We start off knowing a beginning and end point and what our relationships are to each other," Preusse said. "We start off with whatever scene we've decided, and somewhere after the first couple of lines one of us uses a different line from a different scene and starts something new."
For the Eisenhower performance, the three scenes will be from "Sure Thing" by David Ives, "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg and "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" by Lorraine Hansberry.
"This is kind of our first step, so we picked two-person scenes for us to play with," Howard said. "Since this is our first foray into this, we decided we would stick with contemporary works. We didn't want to do anything with dialects. And we picked relationships that were somewhat similar. They're all male-female love relationships."
Eventually the pair hopes to expand the concept. "We would love to see what would happen if you have an ensemble performing plays in repertory and you would create a new play using dialogue from the plays that you've been performing in repertory," Howard said.
Preusse and Howard have practiced their new concept by performing twice for groups of theater professionals, improvisers and musicians in an informal setting. Adrianne Cury is directing the individual scenes.
Howard, a working Chicago actor for more than eight years, is director of the artistic council for Stockyards Theatre Project. Equity and Screen Actors Guild actor Preusse studied at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He performed in Minneapolis, San Francisco and Idaho, before coming to Chicago five years ago.
Preusse said the purpose of "The Experiment!" is "to see what happens when you take three scenes and then distort them, and change what they were, and see if we can come up with something new that's both entertaining and also has meaning to it."
He added that it's also an interesting challenge for an actor to "try and keep all of those lines of dialogue in your head and be able to perform them at any given point with whatever the scene you're improvising is calling for."
It sounds somewhat overwhelming to sift through your memory bank and pull out lines from three separate scenes that make sense in the context of a new scene. "It's an interesting thing that happens in your brain when you're waiting for a line to come from somewhere," Howard said with a laugh. "There's a great deal of trust. You need to be in the moment and totally following wherever your partner is."