Audience takes charge in improv show Upton Abbey

SRC0608 Upton Abby, Annie Russell Theater, Photo Scott Cook

This past Thursday night was crew preview for Upton Abbey: An Improvised Comedy of English Manors, the long-form created and developed by Theatre Department Chair Dr. David Charles with the help of twelve summer researchers. Upton Abbey is set during World War I, and is completely improvised. It explores the different gender, class, war, and internal conflicts that arise on an English estate in 1918 through an episodic format. Though it is a serial format, the company is performing in a stand-alone style, so that audiences will be able to follow along even if they haven’t seen previous performances.

Each performer will portray two different characters. Roles were outlined during summer research, which consisted of students presenting on topics including courtship, war, and day-to-day life, and then later developing the research into a complete packet for reference. Each researcher was also responsible for the development of two characters. Students would develop the characteristics and potential choices of characters, which were designed to be brought to life in an improvised setting.

Dr. Charles used the show Downton Abbey as a guide for the creation of Upton, and researchers were also required to carefully watch Downton Abbey, analyzing it for style. Research was compiled over eight weeks; mornings saw character development workshops, and in the early afternoons, the researchers would improvise scenes themselves to guarantee plotlines could flow smoothly through the characters.

Their work from the summer will certainly be apparent when watching the show, but because the show will be improvised, each night’s plot will be completely new to the cast, crew, and audience alike. Much like the Rollins Improv Players shows (also directed by Dr. David Charles), Upton Abbey will incorporate audience members’ suggestions into each show’s setting and plot. The show runs November 11-19; tickets can be purchased now at the Annie Russell Box Office and online.

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