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Comedy troup “The Revolution” revolutionizes playwriting at Carleton

Student comedy troupe The Revolution hopes to take playwriting to a new level for the first time at Carleton. After forming just five weeks ago, the play will be performed ninth weekend. The play, whose plot and title are to remain secret until its opening on November 8, is the product of a unique writing process that deviates from traditional playwriting, a process which is central to the development and final result of the piece.

This will be the first time that a project of such a nature is realized at Carleton. The idea came to co-directors Max Leibowitz ’08, Ali Reingold ’08 and Tom Weishan ’09 last spring after critically-acclaimed sketch comedy group, Schadenfreude, whose method of writing is different from that of other groups in that it involves brainstorming and creating plot, lines and characters through improvisation rather than on paper, came to Carleton to put on a show. Afterwards the group held a workshop that focused on sketch writing and group writing in particular, which Reingold, Leibowitz and Weishan attended. The co-directors cited the workshop as motivation and inspiration to produce a similar play of their own.

In addition to the encounter with Schadenfreude, the directors of the play have been involved in the 24-Hour Show that takes place every spring term. The show, put on by the Experimental Theater Board, involves several teams of writers and actors who, within their respective teams, collectively work for twenty-four hours straight, writing, rehearsing and performing one-act plays. The directors agree that this past spring, their fifteen-minute play ended up differently than that of many of the other groups due to the process they used to create it, a process not unlike the kind used by Schadenfreude.

Subsequently they decided they wanted to do something along the lines of the idea of the 24-Hour Show, but on a bigger scale. Thus at the start of fall term, they had a brainstorming session in which they decided on a general process and on how the project would be carried out.

“We completely filled three blackboards with ideas,” Reingold said. Instead of sitting down, deciding on a plot and putting it on paper, the team decided on a general setting, invented personalities of characters and the ways in which they would interact with each other. The group then improvised within the constraints of a few key moments that they had decided must take place in the plot. The result was a more natural “scene”—almost entirely invented by the writer-actors—from which the group members picked and chose their favorite moments. Since there is no fixed plot or fixed lines, the method is heavily dependent on flexibility and communication within the group.
“It’s like ESP, but real,” Weishan said.

The project has not been without obstacles. Aside from the challenge of holding auditions and putting together a cast without having a solid knowledge of what the plot was or who the characters were, they explained the necessity of having to get things down on paper.

After spending the first couple of weeks gaining an intimate knowledge of the characters and the hard-hitting moments of the play, the cast sat down for the next two weeks (which they call “dirty weeks”) to begin the procedure of writing out each scene in full. Even with everything written down, things are constantly being added, improvised, and taken out. The directors explained that all three showings will end up being slightly different from each other because of the way they have gone about putting it together.

While the directors are thrilled so far with the outcome of the play in itself, they insist that the project has been about something much greater than the end product, it has been about the process, about the test to see if they could do it.

Those involved have spent fifteen hours a week on the project, with two hours of rehearsal a day.
“It’s a colossal task,” Leibowitz said, “it might as well be our comps.” The directors said writing and putting on plays in this sort of style is something they would like to do in the future.

The directors attribute most of their success to the great people with whom they have been working. The improvisational aspect of the project, they said, has created exceptional moments and jokes, and many elements included in the play are things they had nothing to do with.

The concept of their project relies on an idea they call the “group mind,” which means that every person involved is working together and that they are all equal in terms of input. Each member of the group freely contributes his or her thoughts, coming the a general consensus before each decision is finalized.

According to Leibowitz the fact that they were able to envisage and accomplish the project is a testament to Carleton students. They all agree that it is telling of Carleton students too, that only half of the troupe consists of improv group members and includes only one theater major.

“For half of the people in it, this isn’t what they normally do,” said Weishan. Yet they insist that this type of production is accessible to everyone, and hope that what they have started becomes an annual project. “If you can sit at a party with your friends and talk and laugh, then you can write a play,” Weishan said. “It’s hard, but you can do it.”

The directors speculated that some students might assume that, since many of the troupe members are involved in improv comedy, the show will be similar to those of Cujokra, The Harriers, or Lenny Dee. They clarify that this really is not the same thing—but that if you like Cujokra and Lenny Dee, you’ll like their play.

“If you like being alive right now,” said Weishan, “you’ll like it.”

The Revolution presents at 8p.m. Thursday, November 8, Friday, November 9, and Saturday, November 10 in Little Nourse. Call 4439 to reserve tickets.

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