Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Please understand the subtext of jealousy here.
The two-day run of Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram’s The Script Tease Project, presented by the Festival Players of Prince Edward County, has already sold out. I understand that an opportunity to see them perform is a serious draw. A couple in improv comedy and real-life, they are renowned alumnae of The Second City Toronto. They’re very funny. And they’re in high demand on both sides of the border, on stage and on screen.
Ok – it’s not subtext . . . it’s full-on text. I’m bummed that I don’t get to see them.
The Script Tease Project brings Snieckus and Baram to the pretty town of Wellington, Ontario, and back to a project that is close to their hearts. “The concept of The Script Tease Project developed organically from our humble beginnings when we were The National Theatre Of The World (with Ron Pederson),” they explain. As a part of the five-time Canadian Comedy Award winning troupe, they would improvise full-length plays in the style of famous playwrights (think Williams, Chekhov and Ibsen). Yes, you read that right: full-length plays. And they would often invite actors from the Toronto theatre community to guest with them. This had “varying degrees of success” – largely depending on the comfort level of their guests.
It was at that point that they had the brainwave to make the playwright the special guest: “This way, the audience still gets a draw (a reason other than us to come out to the theatre), and we could put more of the focus on the playwright and the art of creation. We felt it was less self-indulgent and took a bunch of the pressure off of us creating the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’.” Taking this idea and running with it, Festival Players has commissioned two Dora Award-winning playwrights, Toronto’s Kat Sandler and Prince Edward County’s Raymond Storey, to write the first two pages of an original play each. Baram and Snieckus will read the pages of each play for the first time – live – in front of an audience, then improvise the rest. Sandler’s play will take shape on July 26, and Storey’s on July 27.
To most of us mortals, this sounds . . . well, palpitation-inducing insane.
Improvisation is an in-the-moment, think-on-your-feet artform, which is slippery to describe and requires a zen combination of mental calm, energetic attentiveness and absolute fearlessness to pull off. Now add the complexity of trying to – in real time – continue and conclude the plot, and play out the character arcs set in motion by a playwright with a particular style . . . all while entertaining the audience with your quicksilver acuity and verbal wizardry. Truly, Baram and Snieckus are among the best, willfully defying the adage “you can’t make this stuff up”.
To the uninitiated, there may be no better introduction to improv than this duo, so (and yes, I’m belabouring this) it is both a shame and an inevitability that the run of The Script Tease Project has sold out. Its popularity parallels their fondness for the format, which they admit has always been a favourite. But wait . . . a glimmer of light! They divide their time between Toronto and Los Angeles, and hope to do more shows in both cities at an unspecified time that is (fingers crossed) “soon”.
So what do Snieckus and Baram hope audiences will make of their work? While the overall audience experience at The Script Tease Project depends at least in part on the pages written for each night, their underlying hope is for the audience to walk away with a greater appreciation of improvisation as an art form. Though the “laughing part is usually the easiest part”, they hope genuinely to move the audience, and extract a range of emotional reactions. “We are creating this piece of theatre together – the playwright, us, and the audience. It’s an exciting thing to be part of.”
Most of us know and love Snieckus as phys-ed teacher Bobbi Galka on CBC’s Mr. D (among other shows, films and countless commercials). After 8 seasons on the show, “I can tell you it’s made me appreciate any opportunity to leave the house with anything other than sweatpants and a whistle,” she quips. The work – not just the wardrobe – was about as far from The Script Tease Project as you can get: “The show offered me a playground to hone my skills in a completely different way and get to know a group of immensely talented comedians in the cast…and crew!” Sniekus describes TV acting as “more contained.” It demands a “different kind of precision”, and “I can honestly say that TV makes you homesick for the immediate response one gets from a live audience.” So much so that when you’re shooting a TV show, there’s “nothing better than hearing ‘cut’ from the director and then giggles from the crew. You know you’re doing something right!”
Well, there should be no shortage of those immediate responses from audiences at both nights of The Script Tease Project. But what about the rest of us, you ask? In addition to anticipating a next version at an unspecified future date, we have other options for getting our fix of Baram and Snieckus. First, they are a familiar fixture in the podcast world. Snieckus’ The Firecracker Project is a community celebrating the creativity of women and non-binary artists. As a duo, Baram and Snieckus perform their improvised comedy podcast, and (as of August 5) star in Someone Stole Something, a 6-part serialized mocu-mystery podcast written by Baram that parodies the True-Crime genre. In addition, Snieckus will reprise her role as Principal Lee in Disney’s Zombies, and is currently filming a Netflix Original called Workin’ It. Finally, Snieckus deadpans, “I’ll also be playing Matt Baram’s love interest in the CTV show Carter – now THAT’S some acting!”
On a serious note, they acknowledge that working so closely with a life partner can be challenging. When it comes to improvising on stage, it sometimes feels like their relationship adds another “unspoken layer” to each of their performances: “We usually bring in little bits of things we are working through in our lives. We can’t really help it; it just comes out. But we don’t shy away from it either. It’s real, and part of our jobs as actors is to share who we are with the audience so that they can walk away feeling like they just experienced a human experience.”
So even though Baram and Snieckus’ talents and fearlessness seem otherworldly, a genuine and unpredictably “human experience” is what the lucky audiences of Prince Edward County can anticipate.
Good for them. I’m still bummed . . . that’s a human experience, too.
News You Can Use
What: The Script Tease Project, created and performed by Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus; presented by The Festival Players of Prince Edward County
When: July 26 – Two pages written by Kat Sandler (SOLD OUT) and July 27 – Two pages written by Raymond Storey (SOLD OUT)
Where: The Studio Theatre, 310-312 Wellington Main Street, Wellington, ON
Info and Tickets: baramandsnieckus.com
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019