Wham! Bam! Pow! — and lots of laughter. Expect to hear these and more when The Resistance, the über-exciting improv troupe from L.A., comes to Elings Performing Arts Center at Dos Pueblos High School on Saturday, January 14. Before your very eyes, the group will create an entirely original action/adventure/comedy based on your suggestions, complete with the cinematic magic of live music and lighting. With proceeds going to help DP’s theater program, it’s far better than going to the movies. I spoke with The Resistance member Kurt Maloney about making movies come to life on the spot.
What is the rehearsal process like?
Our rehearsal process is probably not what you think. Since it’s improv, we can’t rehearse because we make it up on the spot. Instead, we read a lot of books on screenwriting to sharpen our knowledge of the hero’s journey and what makes a story worth watching. We also train physically because of the amount of improvised stunts we perform.
How do you store up knowledge of movie formulas/tropes/themes, and how does the storytelling play out?
We are also fascinated by the action/adventure genre, and I think that’s what keeps us so knowledgeable on the topic. We are constantly researching new movies and plot devices and then sharing them with the rest of the group. … The way we keep our show from getting repetitive is we do a new genre each week and let that color the story. A revenge story set in the Old West will feel very different from one set in space. Think about the movies Die Hard and Taken. In both movies, someone close to the hero has been taken hostage, but the way the movie plays out is very different. … They both have the same motive, but they meet different people and encounter different obstacles. We try to take that into account when improvising a new movie every week.
How does performing this style of long-form compare with other styles? What are the unique challenges of making a movie on the spot?
Most improv theaters, especially in L.A., want the troupes to stay away from a narrative. Often coaches will give notes saying, “You got too plotty. Stick to the game (the bit of the scene).” Our show relies heavily on a strong narrative. After all, we’re doing a movie. But to keep it from getting too “talky,” we use games and bits to push our narrative. I think our biggest challenge is remembering the names of all the characters we play. Sounds dumb, but I bet you couldn’t name more than 10 characters in The Lord of the Rings. Now imagine improvising a fantasy movie where you have to know everyone’s name. It’s hard. And nobody wants to see a scene where a character asks everyone’s name repeatedly. “What’s your name again?” “It’s Frodo. I’m here to save all of Middle Earth.” “That’s right. Thanks, Froyo.” “It’s Frodo!”
Have you all ever considered rendering one of these into a real feature? What might be gained or lost in translating the improvised into the fully developed? What makes an improvised movie so enjoyable versus a scripted one?
We have. We film a lot of our shows, and the very best ones get transcribed into a first draft. What usually stays in our scripts is the story structure. Sometimes the jokes change; sometimes we’ll add scenes. But the story is usually untouched.
If you could live inside any movie, which would it be and why? Star Wars, because then I’d have the Force and I’d get to chill with Yoda. —Richie DeMaria
The Resistance improv troupe performs Saturday, January 14, 7 p.m., at Elings Performance Arts Center at Dos Pueblos High School (7266 Alameda Ave., Goleta). Call 968-2541 x4670 or see dptheatrecompany.org.