Behind the Scenes: Deep Improv

“The show was a surprise. It skillfully reminds us that an improv presentation doesn’t always have to be wacky and off-the-wall.”

MARK MAGEE, PortFringe 2019 Review Team

Deep Improv is the Fringe Festival presentation from The Fresnel Theater. With Fresnel regular Eric Darrow Worthley and co-founder Krista Simonis, the idea was to create an improv show that felt more like a scene from a play than your typical improvised show. The show has been well received by reviewers, so we thought we’d interview the performers to see what went into creating it.

Interview with Eric and Krista

“The performers are confident and skilled, so who knows what they’ll cook up the rest of the week, but if you appreciate the art of playing in the moment, catch the show.”

BESS WELDEN, PortFringe 2019 Review Team

Q: Where did this idea come from?

Krista: It actually came from one of the first shows I ever did when I started doing improv. It was a devised theater piece and the audition was a scene where I was given the objective and obstacle combination of “You have something to tell this other person but you’re afraid.” And from that I had this amazing scene that I still remember. So I wanted to try to recapture that magic, and create an improv scene with real emotional stakes. Fringe seemed like the right place to do that.

Eric: For me Deep Improv came out of a desire to explore subject matters and relationships that are usually given only passing notice in improv. It many way it has been about doing improv with out the usual safety nets of laughter. I’ve felt that I can really push at the edges of what kind of stories can be told with improv. 

Q: What was the creative process like for you?

Eric: We started just by talking about what makes a scene “good.” I made a list of videos with high-drama two person scenes and we watched them looking for what they had in common. They were all trying to get something from each other. So we made a list of verbs. You know, what strategies do people use to achieve their obstacles. Then we just practiced doing scenes with those strategies. And we did a lot of brainstorming and talking about what worked and what we needed as performers.

It was scary. Which is a good thing. Our show has monologues in the center of it, which gives us a chance to explore the characters a bit more, but to do an improvised monologue really requires you to go out on a limb artistically speaking. I did things as an actor that I haven’t done before, which is exciting.

Q: What were some influences on your show?

Krista: Oh gosh. I’ve been told it’s reminiscent of August Wilson. We also did one performance that I heard was “very noir.” I mean, it is completely improvised so each performance will have a different feel, but ultimately it is all about relationships. In terms of influences though, it’s probably the most influenced by our own personal experiences. I tried to really follow the advice of my college acting coach who said that acting could be summed up by one sentence: “I want something from you right now, it’s really important, but there are things in the way to take action to get what I want.”

I want something from you right now, it’s really important, but there are things in the way so I take action to get what I want.

Don Bilotti

Eric: Yes, because it’s improv ultimately it’s all about what we’ve learned in life and through studying improv. Before the show a friend asked me, “What do you need to prepare?”

Krista: I just change my shirt and put on lipstick.

Eric: Yeah, the answer is just to change my shirt. That and study improv for fifteen years.

Q: How does improv fit into a more traditional theater perspective? What about the reverse?

Krista: Well I didn’t start out doing “improv,” I started doing “theater.” But since I was doing children’s theater, many of the exercises that you use to teach kids how to act are exercises that inspired modern improv- they all come from Viola Spolin. So improv, and learning how to react in the moment and get in touch with your feelings has always been a part of theater. Every time an actor messes up a line and someone forgets their cue and someone else has to cover… there’s improv happening all the time in theater, just not in the way you’d typically think of it.

As for the reverse, I think improv is just starting to take on more traditional theater “feels” but it first had to define itself as an artform separate from theater. In my opinion, the hardest thing in improv isn’t saying yes. It’s making decisions. In scripted work that is already done. Then it’s done some more when it’s edited. But in improv you have to make decisions in an instant and be confident in those decisions.

Q: What did you as a performer take away from doing this show?

Krista: I think if you take enough time to reflect you can learn from any show. For this one I kind of had two real revelatory moments. One, where I learned to put aside my perfectionist instincts a little bit. I’m definitely a person who always wants more, who is never satisfied. Once we started doing the actual performances, I realized that the audience was enjoying it. I didn’t have to worry about that and I could just play with the story. What we had created was enough.

I was also was reminded to speak truth. In the show we did last night, I went into it acknowledging that maybe there are topics I’ve been hesitant to really work with because they’re scary. But art is about being honest, so I really tried to just speak from the heart. I found myself saying things in the show that I’ve said before in life, and it resonated with people. As I was leaving, I had an audience member say “I’ve been there.” It’s just a great reminder that art connects us- however you’re feeling you are not alone.

You can catch just one more show of Deep Improv this weekend at the Mechanic’s Hall Ballroom.

  • Saturday June 22nd @ 1:15pm, Mechanic’s Hall Ballroom