Blaine Swen: All the world’s a stage
Blaine Swen is the creator and the director of the Improvised Shakespeare Company, a comedy company that will be performing at Theater 80 in New York from October 3rd-5th.
Noel Gutierrez-Morfin sat down with Swen to talk about his work and all the fun that comes along with Shakesperean improv.
How did you get the idea to start it in the first place?
I started doing improv in California years ago when I was a teenager, and I played for comedy sport, a show that does short-form improv, or short-scene games that have some sort of twist or goal, like what you would see on “Whose Line is it Anyways?”
One of the games we played was a game where you do a scene in the style of Shakespeare, which was a style that came up a lot. I was part of a group out there that decided to take the Shakespeare scenes and turn them into a longer show. We did that a couple of times.
When I was in LA, some people from that group started another group called the Backstreet Bards that performed Shakespearean improv shows at iO West [Theater]. When I moved to Chicago, I started a Shakespearean improv group in 2005, which was the ISC.
What’s your favorite and least favorite Shakespeare play and why?
My favorite is Cymbeline. The guys sometimes rip me for saying that, but the reason it’s my favorite is because if we were to actually have success at improvising something that looked like a real Shakespearean play, Cymbeline would be the closest we would get, because it looks like Shakespeare was writing on a deadline, and he was getting more and more sleep-derived, delirious, and maybe drunk.
He was thinking things were hilarious at 3 AM and writing in wild storylines that he quickly just wraps up, and I think it’s hysterical and wonderful. It really jives with the kind of performance we do. My least favorite….I can’t say. It’s blasphemy.
During one of your shows, what’s the weirdest title you were ever given by an audience member?
We did one show called “Pudgikiss.” It must’ve been an inside joke because we had no idea what that meant. Some of our favorite titles have been “The Rocky Hamlet Picture Show” and “Midsummer Night’s Menopause.” Not all of the titles have an obvious twist on a Shakespearean, like “Yoko Ono Goes to the Zoo.” Sometimes they’re just completely random.
What did you guys take “Pudgikiss” to mean?
I’m trying to remember, it was so long ago. That’s the magic of improv. You do a show and then it vanishes forever.
If you could live the life of any Shakespeare character, who would it be and why?
I’m trying to think of one that gets off easy. It’s really hard to think of anybody. I’d say Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing. He seems to have it okay. He has some genuine friendships. He finds a genuine love with somebody who he connects with on and intellectual and spiritual level. And he lives! That’s one of the most important things.
Describe the worst movie you’ve ever seen in Shakespearean English.
I did gaze upon the screen and there before my eyes was a man who did call himself Joseph of the G.I. This foul monster that did take the stage! This beast that did call himself a man was a tragedy unto my eyes to behold, and a foul screeching hock unto my ears to hear. So then did I walk out of this theatre in great melancholy that my ducat had been so wasted upon such a tragedy!
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