Scene Monkeys are ‘cliff divers’ in skits

By Allison Hamburger

The Scene Monkeys listen attentively as Rugby Auditorium audience members call out locations.

“IKEA! I heard IKEA,” Megan Ward ’13 announces from the stage. With no lines memorized, no characters rehearsed, no plot established, four players begin to act out a scene set in the supersized furniture store.

But there’s one more catch: at all times, one actor must lie down, one must kneel, one must sit and the last must stand. Bouts of laughter escape the audience as the four Scene Monkeys frantically change positions while also creating a witty story.

The Scene Monkeys, the upper school improvisation theater troupe, performed April 14-18 at the Harvard-Westlake Playwrights’ Festival in their first official shows of the year.

The group works entirely without a script, creating every line and gesture completely on the spot, with often hilarious results.

Beanie Feldstein ’11 has been a Monkey for two years.

Improv thinking differs greatly from other mindsets, she said.

“I came from a theater background where you always have a script, and you always have a character to work on,” Feldstein said. “[For improv,] you have to be able to tap into multiple characters at once because you are going in and out of scenes very quickly, and sometimes you are playing multiple characters within one game.”

Improv depends on using both instincts and basic structure, Scene Monkeys Director Michele Spears said.

“This year in particular we have a pretty fearless group,” Spears said. “I call them cliff divers because they’ll just launch, and that’s something we really can’t teach.”

After November workshops and auditions, the selected actors rehearse every Friday with Spears.

“The One Act Festival, which we just did, is sort of our first time out in front of an audience, and we do really short segments. We do like 12 to 15 minutes of work, but it gives the newer people a chance to feel that energy when you are in front of an audience,” Spears said.

The Scene Monkeys will also perform a Mothers’ Day show May 8 at LA Improv and on May 20 in Rugby.

During rehearsal, the 14 Monkeys begin by warming up with simpler games before progressing to complete scenes, Feldstein said.

They also play a variety of improvised singing and dancing games, accompanied by pianist Nick Healy ’13, who works without sheet music.

Spears said that the dynamic of the Monkeys’ performances changes “drastically” over the course of the year as the less experienced players become more comfortable and the more seasoned improvisers sharpen their skills.

The ultimate goal in doing improv is to make their fellow performers look good, which fosters better scenes, Spears said.

“People know their strengths, they know their weaknesses and everyone else knows their strengths and weaknesses and then you play off of those strengths,” Feldstein said.