I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of class recital shows. They tend to pack the house as students invite all their friends and relations, but the quality of the performances is low. It’s to be expected – these are improvisers who are just learning the ropes.
That in mind, I was was pleasantly surprised this Saturday night at the Station Theater graduation of their latest level 5 class, self-titled “Intimate Elevator.” Now, to be fair, these are improvisers who have gone through almost a year of improv training in the Station Curriculum. Regardless, a graduation show can still sometimes be a crap-shoot. Saturday’s graduation show was one of the best I’ve seen. The scenes were engaging, and the form was a perfect fit for the huge cast of a dozen improv graduates.
In Station Theater’s curriculum, the level 5 class spends 8 weeks developing a new form and then they perform it at their graduation show. Working with Steven Saltsman, the level 5 instructor, the level class developed a modified La Ronde.
In the standard La Ronde, the show starts with 2 players in a scene. As the next scene starts, one player exists and a new player joins the scene. The player remaining from the prior scene continues to play the same character, but in a new situation. The intent is to show a different side to the character. If in the first scene we see a character being dressed down by his boss, in the next scene we might see the character at home taking it out on his wife. The play continues, each character doing alternating scenes until it ’rounds’ back to the character who stepped out at the first scene.
Instead of a round of scenes with two people in each scene (with 12 people that would have taken all night), the modified La Ronde of Intimate Elevator had scenes of 3 people. Let me take a small aside here and mention that three person scenes are an order of magnitude more difficult than scenes with just two. And this group pulled it off in spades. In conversations with the cast, they’ve had to do three person scenes since level one. The classes have been so large, logistics demanded it. The group brilliantly shares scenes, very rarely talking over each other – truly a skilled group of improvisers.
In the Intimate Elevator La Ronde of the three person scene, as the next scene starts, one character remains, and two leave the scene. After 4 scenes (the last with 4 people), the group lined up in scene order and each character recapped their point of view. In Act 2 of the form, all the characters get shuffled as the cast throws them together, seemingly at random.
Intimate Elevator executed this change flawlessly. The scenes served the characters – either deepening key traits or revealing new twists. The uncaring mother from scene 1 reprized with two other mean female characters from other scenes to have “Bitch Lunch.” An unwisely paroled murderer stalks her former warden at the warden’s new gig: a children’s summer camp with two boys from scene 4. In summary, the skill of these new graduates and the new form they created made improvised magic Saturday night.
If that wasn’t enough, the graduation ceremony which followed was heartfelt and moving. To me, the way the Station faculty honors it’s graduates has always been special and meaningful. Graduates are singled out and their unique approaches to improv are highlighted and honored with some related 99 cent toy and a diploma. It’s fun, funny and very affirming. At Saturday’s graduation tears seasoned the laughter as one of the graduates celebrated their last show (they are moving to Chicago). One of the other graduates was literally family to Jessica Brown, a faculty member, and her moving toast of her cousin was an emotional end to a wonderful evening.
This improviser had a great time at Station on Saturday night, and I look expectantly forward to more great improv from the cast of Intimate Elevator in the not too distant future.