Go Deeper

The Groundswell Players in Action: Rehearsal for “The Speed of Surprise!”

Posted August 8th, 2011

Alison King in The Speed of SurpriseIf I had a nickel for every time I spacewalked, made smoothies, and got into a slap fight—all in an hour—then I wouldn’t have any nickels. If The Groundswell Players had a nickel for the same, they would have at least one nickel each. It’s just a typical rehearsal for their upcoming Philly Fringe show, The Speed of Surprise!

The Groundswell Players formed when Haverford alumni Alison King, Jack Meaney, Jesse Paulsen, and Scott Sheppard branched out from their improv group, Leo Callahan, in hopes of creating full-length plays. Their first production, How to Solve a Bear, showed at last year’s Philly Fringe.

Though The Speed of Surprise! is still in its early stages, Paulsen and Sheppard told me that much of the play takes place on a spaceship, on which four assassins are traveling. The play will explore both the monotony and the magic of space travel. The Groundswell Players are working with The Hacktory, which will donate a variety of outdated computer parts and machinery to the show’s set, contributing to the vintage, farcical feel of the show. “We are crossing the mundane with the spectacular,” said Jesse.

After the jump: Charlotte Ford directs, and behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage!

Alison King in The Speed of SurpriseTheir shows fall into the category of devised theater; developed largely through improvisation, there is no written script. Instead, the Players participate in a raw exploration of situations, images, and scenarios. Much of their rehearsal is centered around long form improv; with the help of director Charlotte Ford, the Players incorporate highly physical and complex emotional aspects in their work. They then pick out the material that they like, and build off of that growing repertoire.

In action, The Groundswell Players are very funny. During their rehearsal, they brainstormed a number of scenarios, and then played them out. Much of the humor in their work comes from the fact that they take each of their characters seriously; regardless of the absurdity of the situation, they reacted realistically to each other, never overdoing it.

For much of the rehearsal the Players used music to help set the scene; they also used a variety of everyday objects as stand-ins for space related paraphernalia (bean bags, an extension chord, a fan, a pink satin sleep mask as space goggles). Scenes included the captain (Scott) making his famous smoothie for Gerk (Jesse), the entire crew taking a walk through space, and my favorite: Alison’s character, Dyanne, trying to seduce a robot (Jack):

Scott and Jesse had mentioned that Charlotte is helping them to shift away from their usual verbal-based work; for the most part, the scenes in rehearsal had only light dialogue, but much physical comedy. The cast’s attention to character detail and body language provided a perfect contrast to the farcical situations in which they found themselves.

And so, they fabricate a relationship between the mundanely real and the fantastically absurd, and thus create comic work with poignancy and depth.

You can get deep with The Speed of Surprise! at the MacGuffin Theatre & Film Company at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square. Dates and times vary; $15. For tickets, click here.

–Lulu Krause

Photos courtesy of the Groundswell Players.