Trying out for IMP spontaneously
At four o'clock on Sunday afternoon with the late-afternoon sunlight creeping in around the shutters of the Katharine Cornell Theatre, eight girls form a team setting a table with flyers, audition forms, and copies of short scenes to be read.
A few minutes later, they sit on the edge of the stage, filling out their audition forms, enumerating their schedule conflicts. "Why can't I have 27 hours in each day?" one says. "Saturday's my only day off," another says, as someone announces, "As much as I'd love to do it I just can't, I can't add to this madness."
Two younger girls, Sydney Johnson and Kira Bruce, arrive. They sit in the back rows, watching the proceedings as Donna Swift, director and full-time teacher of IMP performance troupes and classes, gathers up the audition forms and checks with several of the girls to make sure that they've written down all the relevant information.
"Up on the stage, please," says Ms. Swift. The girls hurry onto the stage, and Ms. Swift asks Mariah MacKenzie to lead some vocal warm-ups.
"Find your own space," Mariah begins, "Close your eyes..." The girls take deep breaths, hum, touch their toes, wriggle their shoulders, bounce and jump. After a few minutes, they settle back into their seats, waiting to be divided up into groups and pairs for the audition itself.
According to Ms. Swift, people are often surprised to see a teen group, and one in which most of the actors are girls, but the IMPers are well able to hold their own. (There are usually also some boys in the improv troupes, but this afternoon only girls were at the audition. Ms. Swift says that at least two boys are expected to join the troupe this fall.)
Ms. Swift sits at the edge of the stage. "OK, this is an audition, but I know you all and I want you all to succeed," she says.
When the girls get up on stage for their first improv of the afternoon, the gender balance doesn't matter. The characters they play are male, female, old, young, and everywhere in between. The actors take roles shouted out to them from the audience. One actor takes a chair at center stage, to staff a "Help Desk." The others, in their assigned roles, move across the stage one at a time where they will ask for help with various problems, all tending towards the farcical.
Della Burke introduces her character as she sits down. "I played the letter Q on Sesame Street," she says, "but I was dyslexic and I got fired. Now I have to sit at this Help Desk."
Her first "client" is Mariah, a fire-burner. She complains that everything she touches bursts into flames. Della gives her gloves.
Vivian Ewing, assigned the role of doctor, then comes out from stage right. Instead of asking for help, she pokes Della in her midriff. "Can you feel that?" she asks. She pokes and jabs again and again until Della's character is numbed. She then cuts out her liver and saunters off-stage, leaving the former letter Q liverless and bleeding.
Ashley Girard, cast as a superhero, struts and prances onto the stage, puffs out her chest, and declares herself at a loss because there's no one left to help. "You can help me," Della says weakly, clutching her belly. The superhero stitches her up and Della limps off-stage.
The auditions continue, bringing each of the girls onto stage in turn, with Sydney and Kira joining in a scene from a play called "Bears Beware - Goldilocks is in your Town," which will be performed later this year.
Although casts change from one season to the next, most of the girls at the theater this afternoon know each other well. "We're just in tune with each other," says Mariah. "We're like a family."
"In the end, you're all friends," Della adds. "We just continue to get closer and closer."
Mariah and Della are two of the IMPers senior members. Both juniors in high school this year, they began to take Ms Swift's classes in third and fourth grades. Sitting by the theater steps, waiting to take a short scene on stage, they talk about they've grown up together in their improv and theater troupes.
The five core members of the IPMers manage the company. On the stage, they and the other girls move on to their next piece. The light shifts outside, and the teens settle into their their ever-changing roles on the stage, and their growing creative relationships with one another.
A new year of theater begins.
More information about IMP's troupes and classes can be found at iMP4Kids.com. The classes are open to all, without auditions.
Amelia Smith is a freelance writer living in West Tisbury.