During November, Alex Marino directs the latest installment of The Director’s Series, The Wake. Every Thursday night at 9pm, The Wake takes you on an adventure inspired by an obituary. I interviewed Alex via email to discuss The Wake and his inspiration behind the form.
What is The Wake and why did you choose this form?
The wake is a form I started thinking about when i was taking classes in LA. I was feeling kinda frustrated because we had been working on the invocation, which I found really interesting, but a lot of my classmates were really dismissive–they’d roll their eyes if they didn’t think the suggestion was cool, they seemed a little bit mocking of improv itself. It was LA and they were just too cool for it. So I started trying to think of a way to approach the invocation that would force performers to at least have a little bit of respect for the suggestion… and I figured “what if you had to do an invocation of a person who had just died… in a room full of people who loved them.” So it kinda stayed in my head gestating for a while. Then when Magnet first opened I was approached by a practice group, it was one of the first groups I’d coached in New York, and that was Louis Kornfeld, Megan Gray, Charlie Whitcroft, Jon Bander, Corey Grimes, and Kelly Buttermore. And after working with them for a little bit I asked if they’d like to experiment with this form I’d been thinking about and they were totally game. What we arrived at was a modified invocation of someone in that day’s obituaries, inviting them to come into the theater and share their story before they go. I heard, and this may be apocryphal, that the practice of holding wakes came from a period in Ireland where they disinterred a lot of old graves and found scratch marks on the inside of the coffins. They realized that something like 1 in 10 people were being buried alive. So they decided to leave the dead out in for a period of time after they passed to give them one last chance to wake up. So the Wake seemed fitting as a name for the form. I kinda liked the notion that this show is one last chance for the dead to come back.
I chose it for this Director’s Series because it had been a while since I’d seen it done and I wanted to work with the original cast again. A couple years ago I taught a class in The Wake, and those bozos have been asking me when they were gonna get to do it again, so I thought I’d invite them along too.
What do you find funny?
All kinds of stuff. Smart stuff, dumb stuff. Deep stuff, light stuff. Lots of things are funny. To me, the funniest thing to think about is that we’re all just a huge biological accident that learned how to wear clothes and comb its hair. That shit is hilarious to me. We’re a mostly bald, mostly flimsy, slow moving animal, with small, dull teeth and worthless claws. We can barely climb, we can’t fly, or hold our breath very long. We have bad backs and lethal allergies to peanuts and shellfish–but not all of us, so you don’t even know if someone is allergic until they just almost die. We eat and drink through the same hole we use to breathe and speak, and somehow we’ve survived long enough to figure out space travel, novelty t-shirts, iPhones and art that goes on your fingernails. It’s incredibly funny to me just how we spend our time.
Do you find death funny?
Death is not funny, no, but everything around death is funnier because of it. Death is the ultimate straight man. I think to have laughter there needs to be a break in tension, which means there needs to be tension to begin with. The more the tension and the bigger the break, the more satisfying the laugh. The uneasiness people feel when they’re faced with death is a great primer for laughter, and that kind of laughter makes it easier to live with death.
What is the future of improv?
I dunno. At some point enough people are going to complain loudly and correctly enough about not getting properly recognized and compensated for content they improvise for commercials and movies… so probably a union will come out of that. And you’ll see “additional content improvised by” in the credits of films which will be good, but things will be weird… or maybe they wont. Maybe the improviser union will be chill. Eventually there will be an improvised show that is so undeniably good that it will get a run on Broadway. Eventually there will be an improvised show that wins a Tony. Some people will be upset by that… or maybe they wont. Maybe Broadway will have relaxed a bit by then. Someone is going to bring a true and honest, disinterested study of improvisation with all its techniques, history, and various applications to the university level, build a curriculum around it, and just like performance studies and jazz you’ll be able to get a college degree in improvisation. I would like to think that degree in improv would be worth more than getting a degree in performance studies or jazz, but it probably won’t be… and after four years, it definitely won’t make anyone a better improviser than performing in every black box and bar that will let you… but, no matter how much actual experience you may have in the field, you’ll need to have a degree in improv to be able to teach improv at the university level… So that will be a nice little scam.
The Wake plays every Thursday in November at 9pm. Make Reservations Here!
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