Tale of the Tape

The Improbable Theater Company's 70 Hill Lane relies on basic props and the audience's imagination

Improvisation has been the throughline to Improbable's creative team for years. Although this is Improbable Theater's first show, McDermott and designer Julian Crouch and director Lee Simpson together have been making shows through improvisation for nine years. The work is not exactly mainstream, McDermott says. "In England, the last thing you'd ever put on your leaflet is that (your show's) got puppetry in it, because that's perceived as for kids and Punch-and-Judy and outdated."

Improbable also goes against convention by using improvisation in drama rather than comedy. In their last touring show, Life Game, they interviewed a different audience member each night and then acted out pieces of his or her life, such as a first memory or a first day at school.

Although that work is a bit unclassifiable, McDermott and his collaborators have also tried their collective hand at large-scale repertory, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After the success of 70 Hill Lane in London, the English Shakespeare Company asked them to create the 1996-97 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which they conceived of fairies as insectlike creatures that made bowers out of tape, McDermott says. "We had done a small cello-tape show, so we dared ourselves to do a big cello-tape show. We used tape to make the whole forest. So rather than use about seven or eight rolls of tape for a show, we used 52."

Although Improbable rebels against the blockbuster visuals and mechanical sets of film and Broadway, they can't ignore their effects, McDermott says. "You've got to take on board the fact that kids watch videos and watch things happen 100 times faster." But Improbable still has faith in their audience's imagination, McDermott says.

"The helicopter that they see in their head is much more potent than something outside their head, that just sort of said, 'Look how clever we are.' It's about the performers saying, 'We're better than you. You couldn't do this.' I don't think that's really interesting. I think (our work) is hopefully something where the audience goes, 'Well, I did that. I imagined that in my head.'"

Improbable Theater Company presents 70 Hill Lane at Edison Theatre at 8 p.m. Jan. 22-23.

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