Stage Door Review

Instant Theatre

Sunday, November 1, 2020

✭✭

by Spontaneous Theatre, Here For Now Open-Air Theatre Festival, the Bruce Hotel, Stratford

July 18-September 4, 2020;

Revival House, Stratford

October 15, 22, November 5, 12, & 19, 2020

“Life is too short for bad theatre"

Spontaneous Theatre’s Instant Theatre, now playing in the Revival House restaurant, becomes the first the first live indoor theatre performance available in Stratford this year. The show played earlier this year as part of Here For Now Theatre’s successful Open-Air Theatre Festival held this summer in the backyard of The Bruce Hotel. Now that Instant Theatre has moved indoors it makes the important point that live indoor theatre, under the right conditions, still is possible in this Covid-ravaged year. 

Spontaneous Theatre is the creation of four actors who were to have appeared in Undiscovered Shakespeare by Rebecca Northan that was to have opened at the Stratford Festival in July.

Sidewalk Scenes is made up of four actors who were to have appeared in Undiscovered Shakespeare by Rebecca Northan that was to have opened on July 12. When the cast learned the 2020 season was cancelled it transformed itself into Sidewalk Scenes which performed songs, skits and improv in streets and driveways for patrons to watch from their porches. Under the name Parkade Plays, the troupe – Northan, Ijeoma Emesowum, Bruce Horak and Kevin Kruchkywich – staged an extraordinarily inventive production of Romeo and Juliet in the parkade at The Bruce Hotel under the drive-in rules when Stratford was still in Stage 2 of Ontario's pandemic protection protocols. On non-Romeo nights, it staged Instant Theatre outdoors. I didn’t have the chance to see Instant Theatre then, but I absolutely delighted in the chance to see it played indoors. 

The premise of Instant Theatre is more complex than that of other improv shows you may have seen. The idea, as would have been the case for Undiscovered Shakespeare is not to generate a series of unrelated skits, but rather to create a full one-act play.

The manner in which this is done is one of the most amusing aspects of Instant Theatre. The four actors are presented as directors each of whom has a vision for a play they would like to see on stage. Each actor is thus in effect both the director and the conceptualizer of the play while the performers who actually participate in the play improvise dialogue to fit the director’s suggestions. 

We are given the first scene of each of the directors’ plays. After this, we the audience are given the chance to vote on which three of the four we would like to continue watching based on the guiding principal “Life is too short for bad theatre”. After one play is eliminated, we see scenes from the three remaining plays. Another vote is held, and only two are left. The process continues until we finally see four scenes from the one play we have chosen. 

Allowing the audience to vote down plots, characters, or genres it doesn’t like is hilarious in itself since it simply makes overt what an audience already does covertly whenever it sees a play. 

Every performance of Instant Theatre will be radically different from every other so I can only report on the particular performance I saw on October 22 to provide some indication of how varied the material is. On that evening Bruce Horak was the first director to present his play which was meant to be a coming-of-age drama.Using suggestions from the audience this drama turned into the coming of age of a pirate (Ijeoma Emesowum) in Barbados, introduced by the pirate captain (Kevin Kruchkywich) discovered in the midst of corresponding with his saintly beloved (Northan) back at home in Old Blighty.

In the second play Kruchkywich was the director who wanted to recreate a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation spinoff set in Stratford. Horak became a hapless worker at Stratford’s Revel Café who while shovelling snow comes across a frozen body right in front of the shop. Two police officers – one an old-timer (Ijeoma Emesowum), one a rookie (Northan) – are called in to interrogate Horak, who has become the prime suspect. In the second scene of the play we discover in a surprise twist that the suspect also happens to be the present mayor’s illegitimate son.

The third play as envisioned by Emesowum is a period drama. Having alway been fascinated by the novel Jane Eyre, Emesowum says she would like to explore the early life of the mysterious character Heathcliff in a play to be called Young Heathcliff. The play opens with Mr. Witherspoon (Horak) and his very proper daughter Margaret (Northan) complaining about how terribly understaffed they are. Why, Margaret even has to pour her own tea! Luckily, a rough, burly young man, Heathcliff (Kruchkywich) appears at the door and is hired as a stable-boy. Margaret and Heathcliff subtly communicate their immediate attraction.

The fourth play is a sci-fi drama as conceived by Northan. She imagines two disco-loving aliens (Horak and Kruchkywich) who have set out to conquer Earth. Once they arrive they attempt to pass themselves off as normal humans by going to a café. There, unfortunately, Horak dies after suffering a caffeine overdose and Kruchkywich reveals his true horrible form to the café owner Emesowum.

As these summaries demonstrate, the show is a wonderful demonstration of the range and inventiveness of the four actors. Actors may be in the middle of a speech when the director calls out a new plot point that they immediately have to incorporate into their dialogue. Romeo and Juliet showed how expert the troupe is in suddenly pivoting from character to character. Instant  Theatre shows that the troupe is immensely quick-witted and imaginative as well. 

Improv like this is the epitome of live theatre. We see characters and plots created and molded before our eyes. It is not just the request for suggestions from the audience or our voting that influences the action but our physical presence. The actors’ perception of our moment-by-moment response to what they do influences how they shape a character or what elements they add to the plot. The Young Heathcliff sequence took a turn that even surprised the actors, but one could tell it was fully supported and encouraged by the audience reactions. This give-and-take between audience and performers is something neither video nor even livestreaming can capture.

We have to thank Spontaneous Theatre for remounting this show that offers us a much-needed continuous laugh-out-loud experience. We must also that the Revival House for giving them a venue and proving how indoor theatre under Stage 3 Covid safety restrictions is not only possible but hugely enjoyable. The show makes one curious to know what other plans Spontaneous Theatre may have to dissipate so handily the gloom of both winter and the pandemic.

For tickets, visit www.revival.house.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Ijeoma Emesowum, Bruce Horak, Kevin Kruchkywich and Rebecca Northan at The Bruce Hotel;  Ijeoma Emesowum, Bruce Horak, Rebecca Northan and Kevin Kruchkywich at The Revival House. © 2020 Spontaneous Theatre.