On Memorization vs Extemporization

We’re halfway through the run of INVINCIBLE SUMMER, and things are looking good–audience numbers are trending upward, and I’m delighted to be in the thick of the run. Due to an exceeding unfortunate encounter with some bad Indian food my day off on Monday wasn’t nearly the faerieland of fun I had anticipated–I’m only now fully getting back to myself. It’s amazing how much the body rejects food that isn’t good for it, and how *thoroughly* it does so–it’s a remarkable machine.

Last night’s show was a revelation; I was only 80% of the way back, I felt, but the audience was utterly fantastic and full, and their generosity helped me climb back to where I needed to be for them. There was a standing ovation at the end, which should never be an absolute measure of a show’s success, but it was so heart-warming that it happened on a Tuesday, when I was feeling weak in the knees, really affirms my faith in this process. It was a surprisingly magical night.

I wanted to take a moment to talk about the idea of working extemporaneously. A number of folks who see the show often, ushers and the like, have noted that they expect the show to change more from telling to telling, and while they are polite I can tell that what they’re wondering is if the show is actually memorized–after all, they can’t tell what’s changing night to night.

That’s a byproduct of doing it eight times a week–just because something isn’t memorized doesn’t mean it doesn’t have form and structure, and especially when you’re telling the same story again and again you find the ways you like to tell it and it remains remarkably consistent throughout. Now once I put INVINCIBLE SUMMER down for a few months and return to it it will have shifted, and if you saw the first performances here at ART you’d see quite a few changes that then settle down–it’s part of the natural breathing of the piece. It’s a living thing, theatre that exists without a script, and part of that living is that it finds a shape and form that is stable in the long term. By contrast, MONOPOLY! will be much more volatile, as it only has six performances here, and TONGUES WILL WAG will be one giant discovery, as that will be the first time it will have ever been told.

So don’t be surprised if two different performances of INVINCIBLE SUMMER sound similar, any more than hearing someone tell a long and complicated story again and again might resemble one another, or a musician’s signature song has the same bridge in the middle–it doesn’t mean that the work is scripted, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t still changing day by day.


Crossposted to MikeDaisey.com


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