“Sometimes when you sleep, it’s the only time you dream.” This cheeky—and surprisingly deep—moral to the one-night-only “Tired Town” musical revealed the beauty of seeing a group of performers work together to make up a cohesive and meaningful story on the spot.
Sept 13 at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, “Spectacle Spectacular! A Fully Improvised Song and Dance Musical” did just that: blended singing, dancing and live music into one, giant improvisation experiment. With mere seconds to establish a title and opening theme song after an audience member shouted the guiding emotion for the night, J. Lindsay Brown Dance and The Glitter Island Gang brought the audience on a journey of risk-taking and fun, quirky storytelling through “Tired Town.”
The prompt of “tired” immediately sent the cast cascading to the floor (at a sloth's pace, of course) as they yawned dramatically. I wondered how a jazzy musical would adapt to such a monotone prompt, but the upbeat opening theme quickly established the setting of a small town where staying in bed all day was the complacently the norm and internal conflict brewed in the few citizens who quietly wondered if maybe there was more to life than sleeping.
While the root of the storyline understandably followed common themes of unrequited love, town outcast in search of new meaning, villain v. the town and greedy town mayor, the creativity of the musical came from how each cast member developed their character within the plot. There suddenly became an evil business owner out to monopolize the town’s mattress sales, a not-so-evil henchman with a crush, a coffee shop owner from Portland yearning to make friends (and a successful, caffeinated business) and a whole slew of other fun characters.
The casual space, with an old, beige curtain as the backdrop and DIY lights tied to pillars and lining the floor, mirrored the casual environment that the company built for experimentation and exploration of music, text and dance. The stripped-down production elements lent themselves to a performance reliant on bodies in space and movement to bring life to the different scenes. Dancers and ensemble members took the responsibility of portraying dramatic dance breaks, scenery and dream sequences, along with an overall embodiment of the emotions framing each scene.
One of the strongest moments of movement for me was one of the most simple. In the opening song, a description of the town’s mattress production led the entire cast to clump together at different levels, miming a series of tired, yet percussive and on-the-music gestures. In this moment, the cast was unified both musically and bodily, with the movement showing the story in addition to telling it. I wanted to see more moments like this where the dancers moved in-sync with one another, completely committed to what their bodies were doing--a recognizably difficult feat for large group improvisation with added improvised song and story.
But that’s the fun of “Spectacle Spectacular!” The intimate audience of 20 people all seemed to know at least one person in the show, establishing a supportive space for the cast to take on zany characters, build musical scores and twist the plot free of judgement. It was clear that the audience and the cast were having an equal amount of fun, with audience members humming a few of the songs during intermission and discussing funny things their friends and family said onstage.
It’s rare in the professional dance world that productions are presented in an environment like “Spectacle Spectacular!” where the goal is to have fun and create art that’s in the moment, free of the overbearing seriousness that can arise when an artist attempts to create something permanent.
Continuing with three more “one night only” shows Sept 14, 20 and 21, “Spectacle Spectacular!” invites those who want to support interdisciplinary art that unfolds on the spot, while having a fun (and potentially silly, weird, dramatic, emotional, etc.) night.
“Spectacle Spectacular!" runs through Sept. 21 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1500 W. Elmdale. Tickets are $10-$30, available by clicking the event page below.