Actors on the spot in new student show

Adriel Velazquez
Contributing Writer

Most plays have a script for the actors to follow and most improv shows are filled with games in which the actors have total control over what happens, with no script to guide them. This Friday, VCU graduate student Townsend Hart and the Coalition Theatre will mix these two forms of theater together.

On Friday, March 25, the Coalition Theater and Townsend Hart will present “Strange Bedfellows”. “Bedfellows” is a show that will be half scripted and half improvised, with the actors performing scenes by playwrights from Shakespeare to Neil Simon with half of the dialog taken out.

The show consists of multiple twenty minute sets a night with different actors and different improvisers each night.

“It is a challenge for both the actors and the improvisers, but once they get on stage they are present, connect, look each other in the eye, the fear is gone,” said Hart.

Winner of Style Weekly’s 2014 Best of Richmond Reader Survey, the Coalition Theatre hosts comedy shows every week and also offers classes on stand-up comedy and improv comedy.

Townsend Hart herself teaches the 8 week long “Improv 101: Intro to Improv” class.

“Strange Bedfellows” debuted March 11 and will run every Friday for the next six weeks. The shows will rotate through an all-star cast of RVA actors and improvisers. Some of the performers include VCU students and professors.

The show is set up so that half of the dialog is scripted and the other half is improvised. To accomplish that, half of the cast are actors and the other half are improvisers. The actors have scripts with dialog and the improvisers simply react to the actors for what will be a very interesting, and very funny, theater performance.

“They won’t be giving you the Romeo and Juliet you’ve seen before. Instead, they’re going to use Romeo’s lines as a vehicle for an entirely new play. Each scene has had moments of true tenderness as well as hysterical comedy. It’s transcendent,” said Hart.

Directing the show required Hart to prepare with actors who had no idea who they would be paired with until the show began. Often times, neither the improvisers or actors had ever met before.

“I think the unpredictable nature of it brings a heightened level to the scenes that’s really cool to see unfold,” said Hart.

Hart says improvisers and actors need to be prepared very differently.

“For example, I couldn’t tell an improviser, ‘Stick to your objective but be open to having honest discoveries in regards to your tactics.’ Just as I couldn’t tell an actor, “Take care of yourself with both a scenic and a personal game.’ Each world is deeply rooted in their own language and I feel lucky to be bi-lingual,” said Hart.

The show’s format is inspired by Upright Citizen’s Brigade’s show “Gravid Water.” For that show, they pair a famous actor with an improviser for a full length play. Hart wanted to do something more accessible at a faster pace that would appeal to a comedic audience.

Tickets for the performance are ten dollars and can be purchased online at the Coalition Theater website.


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