Despite its unwieldy title, the documentary “Trust Us, This Is All Made Up” fine-tunes the fine art of improvisation to comic perfection. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society brings the film to the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Friday, April 9, in a benefit showing for the Vineyard’s own Troubled Shores nonprofit improv organization.
As part of the evening’s events, members of Impers, the teen troupe from the nonprofit, will perform an improvisational skit before the film. Proceeds will help fund the group’s annual trip to the national improv festival in Chicago.
“Trust Us, This Is All Made Up” spotlights the work of Chicago Second City veterans David Pasquesi and T.J. Jadakowski. In addition to performing in Chicago, the two appear monthly at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York.
“We can’t explain what we do,” they protest, but they prepare for their hour-long riffs by observing people and their idiosyncrasies. After pacing, sitting, dancing, and stretching behind the scenes, the two go onstage, and their routine, spontaneously different for each performance, takes off.
Actor/director Alex Karpovsky, who created “Trust Us, This Is All Made Up,” may be familiar to Vineyard audiences from his appearance in the mumblecore film “Beeswax” (shown by the M.V. Film Society on Nov. 21, 2009) or from his 2008 offbeat mock-umentary “Woodpecker,” about a birdwatcher’s quest for the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker.
Following the arc of a David and T.J. performance, Mr. Karpovsky films the audience arriving at the Barrow Street Theatre, then gives the two actors an opportunity to talk a little about what happens when they go onstage. Three empty chairs provide the only set.
The show begins with T.J. scanning the audience. Soon the two are talking to a third person who is not there. T.J. switches chairs and transforms himself into that other imaginary person. The filming, by the way, is done so the audience doesn’t see it.
The conversation takes so many rapid-fire twists and turns that there’s no time to space out or check your text messages. The actors get involved in a discussion about a softball game, then David mimes a conversation on an imaginary phone.
Much of the trivia common for everyday conversation pops up: the burgundy and gold color scheme of the team’s tee shirts, or the fact that David likes to keep his door shut at work. Suddenly T.J. asks, “Did you try the cheese dip?” They’ve moved to an imaginary bar.
A riff on the weather turns into a discussion of Napoleon with the band Asia on the jukebox. T.J. announces he’s quitting the aforementioned softball team. Then the two plot to get rid of their team manager by taping him to his chair at work.
Out of all this word-rubble emerges a ridiculous story and two – no, seven, before they’re finished – characters with deadpan funny personalities. The audience is torn between trying to keep up with their antics and laughing in amazement at where the talk goes.
Once the show finishes, director Karpowski takes the viewer backstage to watch Dave and T.J. analyze what they’ve done, what worked and gaffes that they made.
“The show is already in progress, and we pick it up,” they explain. “We leave it and it keeps on going.”
The cinematography is straightforward for the most part, with split screens and double boxes to frame the discussions Dave and T.J. have about improvisation.
A collaborative and spontaneous theater art that dates back to the 15th century street performances of Italy’s Commedia dell’Arte, and forward to “Saturday Night Live,” improv has had an active presence on the Vineyard. Edgartown’s Donna Swift founded the Island’s current improv organization, which offers classes for all age groups and provides a home for several professional-level kids’ troupes.
Ms. Swift, who has a degree in theatre arts from Boston’s Emerson College, joined the existing Island improv group, WIMP, which played at the Wintertide Coffee House and the Grange for many years.
The IMPers troupe will perform again on Saturday, April 10, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, with a program of audience-inspired short form improvisations, followed by their long form improvisational piece, “Animal Farm.” “Animal Farm” has also been presented in Providence, Boston, and Chicago. Several members of the original troupe, Laura Silber, Jamie Alley, and Toby Wilson, will participate.
Benefit film showing: “Trust Us, This Is All Made Up,” Friday, April 9, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. Includes skit by IMPers prior to film.
“Animal Farm” and other Improv skits by IMPers to Benefit IMP, Saturday, April 10, 8 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre. Tickets $15 in advance; $20 at door. For more information, contact Donna Swift: 508-939-9368; troubledshores.com.