When I was approached by (producer and cast member) Seth Johnson to direct Beware of Female Spies, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’ve always loved spy stories and according to Netflix, I love films with a strong female lead. (It’s true!) It wasn’t until I began crafting the format of the show that I started doubting myself. I had never directed a narrative improv show before. How could I do this? I have been in narrative shows but I was trained in Chicago style improv.
After freaking out and looking back at every narrative show I’ve been in and how it was crafted I started to calm down. I really liked all of them and they all approached story in different ways. I thought more about it and realized that every improv show I have ever been in has had a story. They may not always be linear stories that go from point A to point B but the human brain loves to create stories and that is what all improv does, even if it is in seemingly unrelated vignettes. If a long-form narrative improvised play is like a novel, Chicago style improv is a collection of short stories. Each scene tells a story and there is a reason each scene is in the same collection.
Thinking of it this way helped me calm my nerves and realize that while there are distinct challenges to both of these styles of improv, they both have similar goals and I could take my training and experience in both styles and make the Beware of Female Spies format unique and true to the spirit of the show. It is an improvised play that tells a central story but it also has tangential scenes that allow the cast and the audience to explore side characters in other aspects of their lives, which hopefully enriches the whole show and the world it inhabits.
It was really important to me that the characters be the focus of this show. Their relationships with each other are heightened and explored through the events that unfold. The cast of Beware of Female Spies does a phenomenal job of this. They create rich characters and relationships that I would be happy to watch in any setting and then they plunk them down in extreme spy scenarios and it is a delight to watch.
The spy genre setting is an insanely fun playground that lends itself to exploring relationships and characters in a heightened way. I love the idea of characters diffusing a bomb while they talk about who did the dishes last or where this relationship is headed. I also love how the spy genre allows the actors to play really absurd and extreme characters as well as grounded and competent ones. One of the things that fascinates me so much about spies is their inherent duplicity. They lead secret lives and are trained to keep things from others and remain guarded.
This idea of duplicity led to us making our show a romantic comedy. Spies are trained not to trust others so how do they have healthy relationships? Can they? How can they tell if their partner is truthful if they are both trained spies who live their lives pretending to be people they are not? This idea fascinates me so much and is a fun question to explore through comedy. We focused on creating interesting, fun characters and relationships with Beware of Female Spies but we also have the added bonus of getting to do so in a setting that is full of fun gifts. Gadgets that do crazy things, villains, sexual attraction, life-threatening situations, world destruction, secret identities, cover operations and jet-setting are all part of the show too.
I have had so much fun with this show and am so excited that we get to bring it to a new audience with the Improvised Play Festival and use the Hideout stage with its back and side entrances, window and door that are ripe for spy exploits.