The UK’s Improbable Theatre has mounted some enormous — and enormously successful — productions in Minneapolis, from the extravagant Shockheaded Peter (2000) to the hilariously morbid The Hanging Man (2003). On their fifth Walker-sponsored visit, Improbable goes into more Spartan territory: a stage cleared of sets and costumes. There, armed only with a box of odds and ends (a bristle brush, a newspaper, a hand mixer) they’ll be performing live, improvising everything as they go. Improbable’s artistic codirector Lee Simpson likens this process–in which performers face an expectant audience with little more than their wits–to “ primeval gloop,” a powerful, mysterious state in which improviser and audience explore possibilities. Simpson and Walker performing arts curator Philip Bither recently discussed this promising, challenging, and terrifying place as a prelude to Improbable’s April 19–21 American premiere of ANIMO: UK/Minneapolis.
Philip Bither: Improbable Theatre has been together a little over ten years now and has gotten major recognition for large-scale shows such as Shockheaded Peter. Why do a project like Animo, an improvisational work like the pieces you did when you first started the company?
Lee Simpson: I think the answer is in the question, really. The fact is that this is at the very heart of what we do. It’s like a little reservoir of stuff that we go back to, a reservoir of experience where we can go to make ourselves scared and vulnerable and off balance again. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. It doesn’t matter how cool you think you are. It doesn’t matter how successful your last show was. When you step on stage in Animo, that’s it–you’re nothing. It wipes the slate clean. There’s nothing, and you face that nothingness and you find something out. And that’s the most scary and exciting thing. The reason why we do this, I think, is that it really gives us that kind of buzz.