Literary works inspire improvisers at iO | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

Literary works inspire improvisers at iO 

Fictitious blends fiction writing and comedy on the stage.

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click to enlarge Improvisers Virginia Muller and Gretchen Eng

Improvisers Virginia Muller and Gretchen Eng

Forestt Strong LaFave Photography

Improvisers Shelby Plummer and Brad Pike spend their time onstage creating worlds and characters, but their earlier work started on the page. Both studied creative writing in college and participated in the local live-lit community. With Fictitious, an online literary journal and live improv performance at iO, they marry fiction writing and comedy.

Each performance consists of six short fiction pieces—two stories are read at a time, and following the reading a scene based on each pair is improvised. The setup gives comedians a chance to work within tighter parameters and offers writers the opportunity to see what else might happen within the narrative they've created.

"Some people have told me, 'I can write a series now, because I know what this world would be like in these other ways,' " Plummer says.

Stories submitted through the website about dramatic breakups, the Oregon Trail computer game, and a robocop have inspired past performances, but the producers are open to partnering with other existing publications as well; last month Fictitious featured works only from the webzine Shredded. The eventual goal is to compile short fiction pieces that have been staged with longer, unstaged submissions into a literary journal in print form to be published every other month and sold at iO. And Plummer encourages anyone to submit material.

"We found that most of our comedy friends also have some sort of a creative writing background," Plummer says. "It's a way to get that writing out of them without it being a high-pressure situation of writing a sketch revue or something like that."

While Plummer and Pike are always open to funny submissions, they say it's more interesting for improvisers to work with more serious material they wouldn't normally get to use as inspiration. For example, a recent story featured a character who kept trying to commit suicide only to have his plan thwarted by outside sources. Suicide doesn't scream "comedy," but the performers were able to create jokes from a specific preestablished perspective.

Despite their creative similarities, the comedy and fiction scenes don't often overlap, but through Fictitious members from each group are finding a new outlet for their work and exposing their craft to more people.

"We have seen a lot of people who have never seen improv before, they just had a short piece that fit the parameters, and they were brought into the show," Plummer says. "It's fun for us to get a breath of fresh air, and it's fun for them to be introduced to this community, see their work onstage, and reach a new audience." v


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