Jerry Tudor is surrounded by teammates. He runs a hand clad in a fingerless weightlifting glove through his pale blond hair. The lights shine reflectively off droplets of sweat before they are caught in his headband. Even though it’s practice, tension hangs in the air. A whistle sounds and he makes his move. He dives and slides across the stage before coming to rest – in a nearly perfect impersonation of a beached alligator. The auditorium erupts with laughter from the cast and crew. Tudor’s impromptu alligator is all a part of the improvisational nature of Actletes, a new show coming to NMU’s Forest Roberts Theatre (FRT).
The show is hardly a show at all, but rather a competition, said Paul Truckey, professor of communications and performance studies and the director and creator of Actletes.
“In the theater we always know the outcome of a play, and the actors know how the play is going to end. In this competition, we don’t know the outcome. We don’t know who’s going to win,” said Truckey. “A different team could win every night. [Who wins] is not for certain at all.”
The show will consist of two teams of six “actletes” squaring off against each other for nine innings during which they will compete in various acting exercises which emphasize improvisation, said Truckey. At the end of each inning, Truckey, who is standing in as umpire during the show, will give a score to each team; at the end of the night the team with the most points wins. Along with the actletes and the umpire, there will also be a “scoreboard babe,” who will mark the scores, and two broadcasters who will provide comical commentary throughout the competition.
Truckey said the games that constitute the innings could range from doing a scene from Shakespeare in a completely different way (like having the actors pretend they are freezing cold during Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene) to deviations of classic improv games that some NMU students will be familiar with.
“I’ve often thought of calling it Second City meets Monty Python meets ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?'” said Truckey, “It’s a free-for-all. It is not a beginning, middle and an end . it’s wide open.”
Truckey said he has always seen a similarity between acting and athletics, and that it was natural to add a competitive element to the show.
“It’s all performance oriented. Athletes prepare to perform in a game . but it really is entertainment,” said Truckey, “I’ve found that in my work as a professional actor, that it involves the same intuition and creativity that an athlete has in the moment when he has to either catch a pass or not catch a pass.”
While Truckey came up with the idea for Actletes, he said that he has been very pleased with the work his actors have put into the show.
“One of the main things that I intended to do was have the actors create,” said Truckey. “The entire cast and myself have created this entire thing.”
Truckey said that directing an improvised show instead of one from a script is challenging because his role as director is not as clear.
“I don’t have a blue print for what to do. I’ve been more of a coach – organizing and running drills,” he said.
An audience attending the show should expect anything and everything, said Truckey, as actors will be doing personas, or impersonations, which may seem stereotypical, such as a valley girl or stoner.
“This show does not pretend to be politically correct and it is not. We intend to offend everyone, and I say that with all respect in the world. Basically everything in the world is up for grabs,” said Truckey.
Jerry Tudor, a junior media production and new technology major and performer in the show, compared his experiences playing high school football to working on Actletes.
“It’s very much like a sporting event,” said Tudor, “This is as intense as it gets for the theater.”
Tudor said that performing in an improvised show can be very intimidating but he has felt more excited than anything else.
“I look at it like this, my favorite thing in the world is to make people laugh . so a chance to get up here and be as funny as I can for an audience is a dream.”
According to Tudor one of the most challenging things about working on the show so far has been maintaining energy and creativity during the rehearsal process.
“It’s been really hard to keep the energy up every single night and to be funny every night,” he said.
Another performer in the show, Brenton Fitzpatrick, a senior education major, described Actletes as “the love child of a baseball game and a play.” Fitzpatrick said the show is unique because there are no major roles and everyone on stage is free to perform together equally.
“I’ve been a part of an ensemble before,” said Fitzpatrick. “But here, there really are no parts.”
Fitzpatrick said that while he agrees the rehearsal process has been exhausting, it has also been entertaining and productive.
“All you do is try to come up with the funniest things you can and try and get good at coming up with things that are funny,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said that an audience should expect nothing but entertainment from the event.
“[Actletes] is its own animal. It’s not a play or a sporting event, it’s our way of doing things,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said he hopes people will come out to the performances so they can experience something new from the FRT. The audience will probably respond most to the later innings and some aspects of audience participation in the show.
“It’s when they get the swing of things – no pun intended.”
Actletes will run at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 7 – Oct.10 with a matinee performance at 1 p.m. on Oct.10.
Tickets can be purchased from the FRT box office or from any EZ Ticket outlet.