Improvisations of grandeur

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New Globe play Dot and Mae combines traditional acting styles with improv

Kristen McEwen
Contributor

If the only plays you’ve seen at Regina’s Globe Theatre have been scripted, you’ve been missing out. On Sept. 23, Lucy Hill and Judy Wensel plan to debut Dot and Mae: Delusions of Grandeur, another entry into the growing canon of improvised plays performed at the Globe.

“I think it’s a really unique, theatrical experience for Regina audiences. It’s improvised, but it’s also going to have that theatricality of a polished play. But the excitement of it is that we’re making it up and we’re discovering it in the moment,” Hill said.

Dot and Mae: Delusions of Grandeur is kicking off the Shumiatcher Sandbox Series at the Globe Theatre. The Sandbox Series is designed to provide artists with a way to present new work that is a bit more experimental.

In this case, that means producing a play in which each show will be entirely different from the last.

The Globe Theatre describes the play as “two working gals gallivanting through love, lust, duty and psychiatric nursing” in 1947. But for Hill and Wensel, it goes deeper than that.

“The play explores both [Dot and Mae’s] worlds within the hospital, but also the delusional fantasy worlds of the patients that they care for. We kind of go back and forth between those two worlds,” Judy Wensel said.

But, despite the implication that you’ll see a large ensemble cast that includes not only the two nurses, Dot and Mae, but also their patients, the show is performance entirely by Hill and Wensel.

“We’re playing all the characters. Dot and Mae will always be in every show – those are characters that we know,” Hill said. “What happens to them in the story, we don’t know – that we improvise. And the patients will be different each night based on suggestions from the audience.

“If you don’t get that suggestion, when will the audience know that you’re improvising? … It’s something that improvisers are always thinking about. Will they believe us that we’re actually improvising if we don’t ask them for anything?”

Following the improvisational nature of the performance, local musician Jeremy Sauer will improvise the show’s music. Wensel said, “We feed off of him and he feeds off of us. Together, that creates a show.”

Hill and Wensel didn’t just come together to do Dot and Mae by chance. They met in high school as they both competed with their respective school’s improvisation teams in the Canadian Improv Games. They began to know one another when they both took part in a show at the Globe Theatre.  

“From there we just started doing lots of improv together and then did a few more shows here at the Globe…. We’ve had lots of opportunities to work together not just as a duo, but as a part of another ensemble,” Wensel said.

Last summer, while at a festival in Victoria, the duo got the idea of Dot and Mae from notable improv director and mentor Alistair Cook.

“[Alistair] said basically the concept of the show… From there we just sort of [took] that and expanded it and made it into something that we really enjoy doing,” Hill said.

Last fall, the performers pitched the play to the Globe Theatre as a part of the Sandbox Series. The idea was approved and the show started to be developed in May. Though key to the performance is the improvisation, rehearsals for the play still began in early September.

“We both have training and experience as actors in a more traditional theatrical sense, as well as experience and training in improvisational theatre. [It was] something we really wanted, to mesh those two worlds and those two loves of ours together,” Wensel said.

In 2009, Wensel received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting from the University of Regina, which  provided her with the essential skills required to put on a play that utilized both traditional acting techniques and improvisation.

“Improv was something I always did on the side throughout my degree and certainly the two worlds lent themselves well to each other,” Wensel said. “I’m really grateful for having my experience with my degree, because it exposed me to a lot of knowledge I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

But, where a traditional acting degree gave her a solid foundation upon which to build her career and this production, it really is improvisation Wensel finds exciting.

“[Improvisation is] something that never loses its vivacity and its excitement,”Wensel said. “Any opportunity I have to perform improv is always so joyous for me and always has been. It’s really great to be able to do that in a more traditional theatre sense.”

Hill also shares Wensel’s passion for improvisation on stage. 

“[It’s] those moments where you can discover something that is maybe totally ridiculous, or totally fantastical, but it’s such a discovery and it’s so in the moment that it’s pure joy,” Hill said. “It’s so fun.”

The production Dot and Mae: Delusions of Grandeur is scheduled to run from Sept. 29 through Oct. 8. Tickets are $20 plus GST. A free matinee is slated for Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. as a part of Culture Days at the Globe Theatre.

“It’s going to be really funny, but there’s also going to be some genuine and sweet moments,” Hill said.  “And it’s brand spanking new that night.”

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