Taking a stab at a classic

Calgary’s Improv Guild presents Psycho: An Improvisation

Members of the Improv Guild are gearing up for their off-the-cuff performance of Psycho: An Improvisation. (Photo by Jess Lindal)

Members of the Improv Guild are gearing up for their off-the-cuff performance of Psycho: An Improvisation. (Photo by Jess Lindal)

The classic horror movie, Psycho, is getting a new spin with director Rick Hilton’s improvised, live-action, stage adaptation being presented by Calgary’s Improv Guild and Arts Commons.

Showing in the Engineered Air Theatre from Nov. 3 to 5, Psycho looks to be a promising post-Halloween scare.

“What is inside your head is what you’re actually afraid of,” said Hilton, the artistic director of the Improv Guild.

Much like the movie, Hilton’s adaptation avoids graphic imagery.

There are two reasons for the show being light on blood. The first is to keep Alfred Hitchcock’s style of directing, as Hilton wants to keep the suspense rather than having an excessively gory show.

As well as the tone, Hilton wants to ensure his shows are accessible for ages “nine to 90.”

The all-ages rating given by Hilton is for more than just his audience. Hilton is using two 10-year-old violin students to try and recreate the magic of the all-strings soundtrack.

The film Psycho is a favourite of both Hilton and the two young musicians.

With a very small cast, Hilton had to rely on improvisation, resulting in all actors playing multiple roles.

Included in the cast is SAIT student Samara Emsley, who is making her debut in this particular style of improv show.

This also marks the first time that Hilton is using a SAIT student in one of his productions.

In addition to Emsley being an actress, she is also the stage manager of this production.

With so many roles, and only a handful of actors, Hilton is also switching the genders of some roles.

He does this on purpose, stating that improv is traditionally a male-dominated art form, and he is determined to lead the way in an effort to change that.

With over 40 years of improv experience, Hilton has been a leader within Calgary’s improv scene.

This will not be Hilton’s first improv production of this type. Psycho will be following Hilton’s improvised Shakespeare shows, including Hamlet and Macbeth. 

Macbeth took about six months to prepare, with Hilton and his cast memorizing the entirety of the play, and creating a way of improvising the complex Shakespearian language.

The difficulty of improvising Shakespeare and the curse of the Scottish play caused Hilton to want to take a step away from Shakespeare just for the moment, hence his work with Psycho. 

Hilton plans to get back to Shakespeare next year with Othello or King Lear. 

Hilton hopes to be able to create a system for improvised shows, generating a way to maintain structure while keeping the improv spirit and energy onstage. He hopes to continue adapting many classic plays, movies and television shows into future improv productions.

Pyscho: An Improvisation, runs from Nov. 3-5 at Calgary’s Engineered Air Theatre. For tickets or more information, please visit: www.artscommons.ca/whatson

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