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Blaine Swen | Photo: Ari Scott

By: Keith Huang

Improvised Shakespeare is in town this weekend and Blaine Swen, one of the Bard of Avon's Make-Em-Up Boys, answered a few burning questions.

For anyone who has recently signed up for a Level Whatever improv class from Whichever Improv School, watching Improvised Shakespeare is like eating one of those fancy-ass meals on Top Chef -- it's just delicious beyond words. Furthermore, it's chock-full of improv nutrients like Hardcore Listening, Honest Emotional Reaction and the largely unteachable Speaking in Iambic Pentameter and Saying Words Like 'Forsooth.' And maybe one of the best indications that this show is truly great is that the sell-out audiences usually comprise non-improv, private citizens.

Here's what Blaine had to say:

Where does one acquire breeches and a tunic ... poet's shirt ... peasant's shirt? What do you call it?
We don't have names for them. We love them beyond labels. You can't find them anywhere. We bought all of them.

Do you have any preshow superstitions? Like not saying the name "Macbeth"?
We don't have any superstitions, but we do have several pre-show rituals. Those are sacred and I've said too much about them already.

What did you think of Shakespeare when you were in high school and college?
In high school I hated Shakespeare. I publicly burned his works. Truthfully, I think we all really enjoyed reading and performing Shakespeare in high school and college.

Do you have any teachers who might be surprised that you pay tribute to the Bard in such a creative way?
My teachers would be shocked to know that I read. I don't think that I, or any of the other guys, had any teachers who would be shocked to know that we do this; though I think we have plenty of teachers that would be really intrigued by the concept.

How often do you perform non-Shakespearean improv?
Most of us perform in several groups outside of The Improvised Shakespeare Company. A lot of us work for the iO Theatre and The Second City in different capacities, so we get a chance to do non-Shakespearean improv fairly regularly.

Does using Elizabethan language and performing Shakespeare on such a regular basis affect your regular improv?
One of the great things about improvising Shakespeare is that the form not only encourages, but demands heightened emotional reaction.  I've found that after performing improvised Shakespeare I'll tend to find it easier to emotionally react no matter what form we're doing.

Have you seen any other improvised Shakespeare companies?
I was part of one many years ago in Los Angeles called The Backstreet Bards. I thought we were great.

You guys are the darlings of the Del Close Marathon, which is saying a lot. Do you get nervous before that show?
We were definitely nervous before our first shows at DCM in 2008, but the audiences are so receptive and exciting that now our nervousness is channeled more into an excited anticipation. That's not to say that we don't have a few butterflies in our stomachs. I think it's always good to have a couple. It keeps you on your toes.

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