The Improvised Shakespeare Company

After all the theater and New Year’s celebrating I did the week before last, I decided I needed a quiet week and weekend. Besides a choir rehearsal and a brunch, my evenings and weekend were left wide open, perfect for relaxing. I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I made it to the gym three times last week. If I do it again this week, it’ll be cause for celebration.

Anyway, it was late Sunday afternoon and I had just gotten home from my brunch, with a short stop on the way back from Manhattan to run some errands. I was sitting at the kitchen table eating some cereal and counting down till 6 p.m., when I could pick up my laundry.  Around 5:30, my cell phone buzzed. One of my friends from brunch had told me she was going to see a performance by the Improvised Shakespeare Company that evening, and now she was texting to say one of her friends couldn’t make it and did I want to come along.

The show was at 7 p.m., at Theater 80 on St. Mark’s Place, a small theater I’d never heard of before. It was going to be a bit of a rush to get there, and I’d have to wait to pick up my laundry on the way home, but I’d heard about this show from friends before and it sounded like something I would love. Besides, it was only an hour – I wouldn’t even get home all that late.

I’ve said it before, but one of the best things to do when you live in NYC is to be willing to say yes to random opportunities. The only other improv experience I’ve had since moving to NYC was Freestyle Love Supreme, but I knew this was something I shouldn’t miss. I made it to the show with just a few minutes to spare and found out my friend had front row seats. I sat down, met her other friend who was there, had a nice chat about “Downton Abbey” (don’t spoil it, I was coming back from the show when it was on and haven’t watched yet!), and then the lights went down on the house and up on the stage and it was time for improv.

The title of the one hour improvised performance was suggested by an audience member: THE MASK OF MURDER. It was, as one of the players noted, both the opening AND closing night of this very special Shakespearean show. Hee. Five men proceeded to enact a show that was a mishmash in themes of Macbeth, Hamlet, and perhaps King Lear, with some interludes with French soldiers that reminded me of the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Watch from Much Ado About Nothing.

It was over-the-top and absurd, and while I’m not sure their speeches were all in iambic pentameter, the language WAS decently Elizabethan – except when they were quoting song lyrics. There was a long running gag involving references to songs by R.E.M. My friend and I both had a little trouble catching this since neither of us know that many R.E.M. songs, but most of the audience got it. I cracked up when crows became an important plot point, since a group of crows is called a murder, and we all laughed when a character said he hadn’t done something because he’d been too busy counting crows.

Each actor portrayed at least three and sometimes more characters, and by the end of the hour practically everybody was dead, as they should be at the end of a tragedy. The only one left was the mad wife of a duke, who was now queen due to everyone else being dead, in large part because of her machinations. I’ve forgotten her closing speech already, but it was one of many that included great rhyming couplets.

The show was silly, the jokes were dirty, the actors were clearly having a fantastic time – I’m sure Shakespeare would approve!

The Improvised Theater Company is based out of Chicago but they come to New York every few months. Check out their site to join their mailing list and find out when you can see a show. I know I’ll be going back!


  1. Oh how cool! And agree, there’s so many opportunities to say yes in this city, we just have to give ourselves a little pep talk sometimes (especially in the winter!:-)

    • Sarah (Noted in NYC)

      January 13, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      For sure! It didn’t hurt that the weather wasn’t too bad on Sunday — if it’d been raining or snowing I’m sure I wouldn’t have gone!

  2. Amazing. I went to something similar in London and I was amazed at the whole thing — I remember it just going by in a blur. This is a good reminder that I should go again, especially as I work two blocks from there :) Glad you had fun!

    • Sarah (Noted in NYC)

      January 13, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      You definitely should! I also want to see what other kinds of shows Theater 80 does, it was such a neat little space.

      Also improv is just so impressive!

  3. I’ve heard about these guys, and I’d love to see them do it. They sound pretty fantastic. So glad you got to go!

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