Q&A: Commonwealth Gets the Gossip during Summer School
Commonwealth cast members Jamie Lantinen and Kate Symes joined us at the water cooler to dish about their ensemble’s upcoming show featured in WIT Presents: Summer School this July, “Commonwealth Gets the Gossip.” Jamie and Kate share how they connect to the audience—and how their improv emerges from that relationship.
How did Commonwealth develop this tell-all show?
Lantinen: We had been working on a way to get some deeper info from our audience to inspire a show and started asking audiences to tell us about what’s going on in their communities. Despite a somewhat heavy ask for an audience, we started getting some amazing stories that were more revealing and gossipy than we had anticipated. After a few shows we realized this is some sweet gossip people have been spilling, and we should focus on that.
Symes: We tried to figure out what we liked most about our recent shows, and realized we were creating worlds that had their own unique rules and patterns. That lead us to think about communities we’re all a part of—the places where we work, live, and play—and what makes them special or interesting. Then we thought, what’s a way people talk about what’s going on in their communities? They gossip. Obviously. Because people are monsters.
What have you enjoyed the most about Commonwealth Gets the Gossip in your Road Show performances at the DCAC?
Lantinen: There is a small pause when we ask the audience for something as people start thinking about what gossip they want to share with a bunch of strangers, but then there is this moment when someone’s gossip bubbles up and they shift in their seat because they WANT to tell it. I like that moment.
Symes: I like building out the world of the show. Whatever happens in the beginning of the show gets baked into the rules and rhythm of the world. We see interesting themes emerge and try to play into those and, as [coach] Mark Chalfant says, make subsequent scenes “rhyme” with earlier ones. We do a lot of audience interaction, and it’s fun to see people be like, “Wait why are they talking to me right now? What’s happening?” You’re in the mother-f*&king show BOOM bet you didn’t know that was gonna happen.
Are you ever surprised by the stories your audience members tell? What are some favorite examples?
Lantinen: Absolutely, I’ve been floored by all of the stories we’ve gotten. One was about a staffer in the Capitol that keeps the press from going past a pole (and pissing reporters off in the process) and another was about a co-worker that left to join a cult!
Symes: I’m not necessarily surprised, because people have interesting stories to tell and I assume if you raise your hand you’ve got something good. One time we were interviewing a woman about a strip club that was opening in her neighborhood, and she couldn’t remember the name of it. Luckily her husband knew the name immediately. And oddly he was sitting at the opposite end of the aisle from her. Maybe he got held up at the strip club.
Your show is pretty audience-interactive at the top. How do you tackle this when you rehearse?
Lantinen: Well our coach is none other than the amazing artistic director Mark Chalfant, who seems to have an endless well of detailed gossip stories – not sure if it’s real or made up – but they are all amazing. We are trying to convince him to do an Improvapalooza show where he just gives 10 minutes worth of different audience suggestions.
Symes: We make Mark pretend he is 500 people. He might have multiple personality disorder.
You organically create scenes after getting information from the audience. What ideas or qualities do you tend to play with in the show?
Lantinen: Our goal is to make sure we honor what is given, but to meld it with in-the-moment discovery.
Symes: Like I said before, we play with whatever comes up right away and build that into the theme of the entire show. We try to push the emotional dynamic of individual characters and their relationships with each other. Sometimes we get there. Other times we end up with sex robots.
Any hot gossip in the Commonwealth community?
Lantinen: Oh… shoot. I knew this question was coming, and yet…. I’ll just sit here and let someone else give the suggestion.
Symes: We are all sleeping with each other.
When can you spill the tea? See Commonwealth’s show schedule here.