By Ammiel Simon of New York Beyond The Picture Postcard
The definition of a Broadway theater is one that has 500 seats or more. An Off-Broadway theater is one that has less than 500, but no less than 90 seats. A theater with less than 90 seats – even if its doors open right onto The Great White Way – is Off-Off Broadway. Squirming in the seat of an Off-Off Broadway theater, I have – more often than not – asked myself, “Why?” Why bother with these wanna-be actors and their experimental, interpretive, avant-garde performance art that gets applause from audiences too intimidated to protest, much less admit that they JUST DON’T GET IT!
And then sometimes, not often, but occasionally – an offering like :Kiss·Punch·Poem: comes along at the Magnet Theater at 254 W 29th Street and New York in a united yawp exclaims: “This is why! This is cutting edge and it’s good!”
Improv inspired by poetry inspired by improv. Two genres that – when you think about it – are very different from each other. In poetry nothing is accidental. Every word is chosen with care. For improv, the opposite is true. Care is thrown to the wind. Slip-ups are plentiful and even encouraged. “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake!” is a common mantra when studying improv. A poem with a mistake in it, is just a poem with a mistake in it.
So imagine the bravery required of a poet to recite her labored thoughts to a group of actors and allow them to improvise a dramatic expression of her work. Imagine also the courage of these actors to listen to these carefully constructed compositions just once, and take what they can of it to the stage.
And when the last poem was read and the last improvisation played-out, I forgave the actors their indiscretions:
Graffiti artists spray painting a wall, played by actors with lazy mime techniques that made the scene look more like a commercial for air freshener.
Actors anchored in their comfort zones with only a few showing the least bit of range.
Voices that didn’t reach the last row of a theater that seats all of 60 people.
For God’s sake! Sing out, Louise! Sing out!
Frustrating – but pardoned. Pardoned for the seductive audacity of these thespians to tackle this project and repeatedly bring down the house with laughter.
But the poems we heard were full of anger, turmoil, broken windows, broken promises, dragons, lost loves and love unrequited. And yet the skits – all of them – were hilarious. I wondered why comedy was the default mode for every sketch. I even felt a bit cheated. And then there was Jared.
Jared Singer authored a poem as the night progressed. Words that expressed his thoughts as he watched the improvs unfold. Mr. Singer recited his poem without reading it from the written page. It came from his heart. Improv inspired by poetry inspired by improv. And like Puck at the closing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jared made amends. And I—I GOT IT!
When we make a joke of it….
It is so much easier to call the person we love
To make a joke of the all-too-real burn
That love leaves-
Than to admit
We have all known
The selfish grabbing of another.
There is no trade off here.
We have not signed anything away.
The moment we are willing to look in the mirror,
And see the myth,
Is the day we will be able to love someone
The way they love us.
The day we will no longer need
Or the joke.
And only have,
From the improvised words of Jared Singer.