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Improvised medical soap opera airs dirty laundry

By Rachel Woodward, September 29 2015 —

No one likes airing out their dirty laundry. But you can laugh at improv actors doing so in the new season of Calgary’s long-running improvised soap opera, Dirty Laundry.

The 16th season of Dirty Laundry launched Sept. 21 at Lunchbox Theatre. The weekly show, which takes place in the fictitious Degenerate Hospital this season, allows audiences to watch drama unfold at the same time as the actors.

Cast member Carly McKee, who plays pediatric podiatrist Sharon Johnson-Zirconia, says Dirty Laundry is unlike anything she’s ever done before.

“Its pretty much my favourite gig. It’s long-form improv, which is telling a story over a period of time,” McKee says. “It’s so different because you make your commitment to the character. It’s about how well you know the person that you made up, and then you live as that person in all these situations.”

Dirty Laundry runs most Monday evenings until April, with the show’s plotlines carrying on through the year. In addition to the regular episodes of the show, McKee says both the audience and cast members are already anticipating the annual special episodes of Dirty Laundry.

“We have a musical episode and it’s a very big deal. It’s crazy. It’s this massive experimental collaboration where we’re singing and it’s literally magic,” she says. “And around April Fools we do our ‘Switcheroo’ episode where we all play somebody else’s character, which is super fun.”

But more than just the acting is unscripted. Cam Ascroft, who provides the musical score for each episode, improvises music in the moment during the performances.

“He composes original music on the spot based on the tone of the scene is, and he’ll improvise with us to make songs as they happen,” McKee says.

Another interesting aspect of this show involves the setting — since the show takes place during Lunchbox Theatre’s regular season, the set of the hospital takes on the backdrop of whatever is currently set up is the theatre.

Since audiences go into Dirty Laundry knowing exactly as much as the cast does, the show is a frenetic and exciting journey. The goal of the show is to keep both the audience and the cast on their toes.

“We each have our characters, and we just try to find ways that they relate in the moment. We don’t rehearse — we meet with the company once in a while to chat about what has worked and we have improv rehearsals, but nothing is ever pre-planned. We don’t talk about the plot outside of when it is happening, so it’s very much in the moment,” McKee says.

Tickets for Dirty Laundry are $10 for students online or at the door. The show runs most Mondays until April at 7:30 p.m.

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