Q&A: Split Screen with Spencer Campbell
Why catch one improv show when you can essentially catch two happening at the same time! How is this possible? Did we do the Time Warp again? No! It's our newest Director Series, Split Screen, directed by Spencer Campbell and showing every Thursday in August at 10pm!
What's Split Screen all about?
Split Screen is a show in which two continuous macro-world sets take place side-by-side onstage without cuts or edits. In the last few minutes, they meet in the same physical location. Chris Scott, one of the cast members, said it's like watching Birdman and Hitchcock's Rope at the same time, if at the end Michael Keaton also flies into the room where Jimmy Stewart is sitting with the body. It's bonkers.
What inspired you to do a show like this? Is it inspired by things you've done in the past?
I love forms where the structure pushes the improv to behave in novel ways. It's not possible to make all your normal improv moves when there's another set going on alongside yours; there's so much more to pay attention to and respond to, and you have to share focus in a way that's totally different from normal improv listening.
In terms of inspiration, I'm a fan of the Warhol film, 'Chelsea Girls,' which is shown in split screen, and it's up to the projectionist to decide which audio track to play. In general, I've always loved split screen shots in movies. I love the way that a simple juxtaposition can bring out rich parallels and contrasts, sometimes entirely by chance.
The show is similar in some ways to The Convergence, a form created by Kevin Hines, which cuts back and forth between two monoscenes that tumble together in the end. What fascinates me about The Convergence is the idea of taking unrelated sets and gradually discovering the hinge the connects them. Split Screen uses that basic framework, but adds the complexity of having both sets onstage the whole time, and opens the sets up from the monoscene to allow the cast to move from location to location.
What does doing split screen monoscenes allow you to do that's different from a standard monoscene?
They're not true monoscenes, since they change location--we just never cut or edit. They're more like two unbroken tracking shots.
Doing these in split screen opens up so many fun opportunities. As improvisers, we rarely have an excuse to do things in actual real-time, but it turns out that's critical for sharing focus the way you need to in Split Screen. So, for example, washing dishes for three minutes in silence is totally encouraged. And it's a delight to follow a character as she or he moves from location to location over an extended period of time, while a hilarious argument is happening on the other side of the stage.
The cast is also so good at identifying and heightening moments of thematic resonance between the two sets. Last week, for example, a touching father-son moment occurred on one side of the stage at the same time a mother-daughter argument was blowing up on the other side. It's so satisfying to see them both at once.
As a director, is managing two sets at once more complex? What about for your performers?
I have it easy compared to the performers. As an audience member and director, I was surprised how manageable it is to follow everything that's going on. But the performers are creating as well as consuming, and they have to many keep so many balls in the air at once. They have to be fully present in their scenes, while at the same time eavesdropping on the other scenes and keeping track of what's happening, all while steering their set to a satisfying conclusion that will somehow connect it to the other set. They blow me away every time.
Who can we look forward to seeing on the stage and what do you love about this cast?
Just take a look at this amazing cast: Hillary Dale, Katie Hoffman, Eleanor Lewis, Jaime Lutz, Anna Neu, Dennis Pacheco, Sarah Poirier, Christopher Scott, Justin Torres, and Melissa Ulloa. They're so ferociously smart and hilarious. They take this incredibly difficult form and make it so much weirder and more wonderful than I could imagine. They're a dream. I can't wait for the next show!
There's only a few chances left for you to catch Split Screen! Thursdays at 10!
Tags: Chelsea Girls, comedy, comedy nyc, director series, film, improv theater, interview, magnet, magnet theater, nyc, nyc comedy, q&a, split screen, Warhol