The trick to improvising Shakespeare? Learn your “thees” and “thous,” let the metaphors and similes fly, and try not to think too hard. It’s not “you look great,” it’s “thou lookest as fine as a red rose in bloom!”
Members of the Improvised Shakespeare Company (ISC), based in Chicago, spent a week on campus performing and conducting workshops with students as part of the Melissa Dilworth Gold Visiting Artist series.
Three members of ISC—Joey Bland, Ross Bryant and Steve Waltien—spent four days with Drama and Improv classes, teaching improvisation techniques and running the students through exercises with names like “Gauntlet of Overreaction.”
“When you improvise, you give up control,” Joey told students. “No one person is directing the moment, so you have to be prepared for that. The key is to stop trying to be funny because it isn’t funny when it looks like you’re trying too hard. You just need to go with the realness of the moment.”
Students gamely volunteered for a variety of skits and improvisation games, performing on the spot with the professional actors, who encouraged students to “just spill it out” and “jump off the cliff.” In one drama class, Milton High School drama students joined Milton Academy and visiting French exchange students in the fun.
“Listen to the actors around you and work to make everyone else look good,” Joey instructed. “Improv comedy is collaboration. You want to listen and react. Don’t take too much time thinking about a response.”
Although most members are not trained Shakespearean actors, ISC performers read and discuss Shakespeare’s work extensively. They also meet monthly with a professor at Loyola University to work on a particular play. Many of the actors are heavily involved in the Chicago improv scene, also working at Second City and Improv Olympic.