By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Suds alert: We’re backstage at DNTV, a television studio where tensions are on red alert and the real drama happens in this age of streaming.
TV executives, actors both human and puppet, camera people, script writers and doctors, directors, production assistants, make-up artists, assorted showbiz egos are working up a lather. Studio boss Sidney Caulfield (Tom Edwards) is clutching his two top shows: Helping Hands for kids and the reality show Thirst Trap Island for, you know, the seekers of guilty pleasures.
What could possibly go wrong, right?
Die-Nasty, Edmonton’s deluxe Canadian Comedy Award-winning improv company, returns Monday night with a new season. And like its immediate predecessor Die-Nasty’s 32nd year of live all-improvised serial soap, Love, Death, and Doctors divides the season into three eight-week mini-series. The first, which runs Monday nights through Dec. 19) is set backstage in the TV studio, “a cross between 30 Rock, Sesame Street and Noises Off.” The second, Death, is a murder mystery lit in noir-ish tones. The third, Doctors, is something medical, which implies that the odd corpse may be involved.
In uncertain times, improvisers (who tend to come from the theatre in this theatre town) are way more able to commit short-term, as the company’s new co-artistic director Jason Hardwick (who shares the gig with Delia Barnett) explains. And “after a rocky two years” of pandemical hard-scrabble it makes sense to start with Love, he says. “Die-Nasty has always been such a fun-loving place and it had started to feel like ‘real work’. I just want to get that family feeling back…. I want this to be a fun place to be.”
Hardwick, a dancer and tap-dancer specialist by trade (and a Grant MacEwan musical theatre grad “in the Tim Ryan years”), laughs. “I learned everything I know about acting doing Die-Nasty with (the likes of) Jeff Haslam, Cathleen Rootsaert, Stephanie Wolfe….” He first guested on Die-Nasty in “the Italian fashion year,” as Bob Fussy. And “the Tennessee Williams year” was a Hardwick favourite too.
What he and Barnett are after, he says, is “soapy layers,” a mingling of drama and laughter. “We’re funny, we’re serious, we’re funny because we’re serious.… It can be over the top, big choices, a heightened sense of reality.” Ellen Chorley is the director of Love. And she’s a perfect fit: a playwright, the director of Nextfest and the artistic director of both a kids’ theatre company (Promise Productions) and a burlesque troupe (Send in the Girls).
The idea of puppet characters mingling with human characters was his. “Bonkers,” he admits cheerfully. “All of us love puppets!” he says of the discovery at preliminary workshops that the ensemble is full of people who live with them. “Who knew?” His own blue wide-mouthed puppet, featured on the poster, may well turn out to be a production assistant, or an ingenue.
The prevailing idea of Die-Nasty that sets it apart, is a dramatic storyline, made up on the spot before your very eyes, that plays out in weekly instalments. It’s so fluent, so expert, that you sometimes have to wonder if it’s scripted and rehearsed: it’s not.
Hardwick and Barnett are planning a new website (“with a catch-up feature: what happened last week?”) and a newsletter. Every Monday night, after the improvisers briefly introduce their characters (“the hot 30s”), he’s thinking of a “Previously On … with three lines from the previous episodes. Yup, stolen from Netflix.”
In the new year, after Love, mystery novelist Janice MacDonald returns to direct the murder mystery series Death. Everything about Doctors, the finale 8-week mini-series, is to be announced.
Die-Nasty star Stephanie Wolfe has long referred to Die-Nasty as “bowling night.” Hardwick laughs. “This is bowling night, with a bowling trophy.”
Die-Nasty: The Live Improvised Soap Opera
Directed by: Ellen Chorley
Starring: Stephanie Wolfe, Kristi Hansen, Jason Hardwick, Vincent Forcier, Nikki Hulowski, Kelly Turner, Delia Barnett, Joey Lucius, Gordie Lucius, Kirsten Throndson. With special guests
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: Mondays (starting Oct. 31) through Dec. 19, followed by two other 8-week mini-series
Tickets: dienastysoaps.com/tickets or at the door