Royce Wood brings Edward Gorey improv to the Bovine Metropolis Theater
It's going to be a Gorey October at Bovine Metropolis Theater. Edward Gorey, that is. Every Wednesday this month, the theater company will be performing an improv show based on a peculiar play titled The Helpless Doorknob by the macabre author and illustrator. But unlike a standard theater production with stage directions and dialogue, this play consists only of twenty illustrated cards that the actors will use as a jumping-off point for a Gorey-genre improv show that will be different every week.
We caught up with director Royce Wood to talk about all things Gorey and what it's like to perform a play with few directions.
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Westword: Can you talk a bit about The Helpless Doorknob?
Royce Wood: It's an improvised show based on a play written by Edward Gorey. But the play is barely a play at all; it's a set of twenty illustrated cards with stage directions and the instructions to shuffle them and then perform them in any order. So what we're doing is we're using the cards and improvising off of them, inspired from the cards and using that to create an hour-long improvised show.
How does that work? Are you having rehearsals?
Yes, yes. Just like most improv groups or improv shows, we rehearse to work together so people will know how to work with each other and also to kind of figure out what works for the show. Edward Gorey, his work is very specific. It's a very specific genre and so a lot of what we're doing is we try out different things and I say, oh, that feels totally like an Edward Gorey story or oh, that scene didn't. I just sort of edit. I say, let's do more of that and less of that and then we just do more and more scenes and we sort of navigate to what feels right, and we keep doing it over and over again until it starts to come together.
What kind of directions are on the cards?
It's like "Angus concealed the lemon behind a cushion," "Adella flung Angela's baby from an upstairs window," "Alacea vanished from a picnic." It's just little one-sentence descriptions of actions that are going on, and the idea is that you can shuffle the cards and it sort of tells a story in any order. It's a very loose, vague story, but the implication is that the card before caused the next event, caused the next event. It's kind of loose, you kind of have to take a leap of imagination.
So will you be drawing cards during the performance?
Yeah, what we finally decided to do, we had some different ideas, but what we eventually decided to do is we've got the cards blown up to poster-sized and they're gonna be shuffled on an easel off to the side and at any point, any of the performers can go over to the easel and reveal the next card. So they're gonna be improvising, not even knowing what's coming next. It's very improvisational and it's a lot of sort of discovering. They'll do a card and they'll improvise some scenes based on that and sort of get tangentially further and further away and then at some point someone will go over to the easel and do the next one, and then characters from some scene start to meet characters from other scenes, and it starts to connect a little bit and sort of keeps going and going and going like that.
Are there costumes?
Yes, so much of Gorey's work is about the illustrations and the visuals, so I wanted to make sure that the show looked like a Gorey show. And since we can't really get a set and we don't really have any props or anything, I said, well, we've gotta have costumes so it visually looks like the people on the cards are coming to life. So that's the one thing we do have, we tried to approximate what the people in the cards look like.