Improvised Shakespeare

By Colin Roshak

You’ve heard of Shakespeare in the park, you’ve heard of Shakespeare in love, but have you heard of Shakespeare improv? This unlikely partnership will be on full comedic display this coming weekend with performances by the Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Troupe founder Blaine Swen has been performing in various improv groups since high school and came across the idea for Shakespearean improv while performing as a graduate student in Chicago.

“The whole storyline is created on the spot and we do it all using the styles and themes of hear Shakespearean style would see familiar Shakespearean archetypes and tropes although it will very quickly look like something Monty Python might do,” Swen said.

The company performs long-form improv, which means they’re on stage, making up a story and characters in the moment, often for more than an hour. This sort of performing requires some serious Elizabethan chops. Old English is almost an entirely different language and to pull off the performances convincingly, it’s one that the cast members need to speak fluently. In order to improvise, react and speak all in the style of the Bard requires diligent practice and a lot of studying.

“The best way to get better at it is to read a lot of Shakespeare,” Swen laughed.

The language has changed a lot since Shakespeare’s time, but what hasn’t changed is the humor. Many of Shakespeare’s most popular works engage with topics of betrayal, death and revenge, but much of his writing also has layers of humor and levity. His writing is rife with innuendo and all of his best scenes are accompanied by a good sword fight. A lot may have changed in 400 years, but humor and action have always attracted an enthusiastic audience.

The Bard was a revolutionary playwright, whose work has become the cornerstone of the theater repertory. The Improvised Shakespeare Company celebrates the long Shakespearean theater tradition in an innovative way. The contrast of old English with modern humor is unexpected and disarmingly funny. One informs the other and vice versa, blending together to produce a unique comedy experience.

The Anchorage Concert Association presents The Improvised Shakespeare Company, Friday October 11 and Saturday, October 12 in the Discovery Theater at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available at

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