A wooden casket, covered in flowers and a picture of a man standing on top of the lid, brings a grim atmosphere into the theater. Long benches are placed on either side of the coffin. Behind it, a lectern awaits its readers, who will say some words of love or sing a last song to the victim of death. The view of this scenery is slightly prohibited by five chairs in the front of the stage, in which the actors are awaiting their verdict. Because only today are they hearing the story and the characters they are going to play. Each of them will have their own goals and secrets, without knowing those of the others. The audience however, will know everything. And I have the honor, together with Ruud, on March 6, to be a witness of this performance of ‘Nachtgasten‘.
Nachtgasten (translated as ‘Guests of the night’) is a longform improv show, invented by three Dutch actors. Each show consists of a story, written by one of them. ‘But you just said it was improv!’ I can hear you protest. You’re absolutely right, it is. All players (which consist of one permanent actor accompanied by guest actors) are told a small part of the story, so that they have a basic understanding of who the characters are, where they are located and for what reason they are together at that particular place. After that, all the actors are send away backstage, so that they can’t hear what’s going on anymore. One by one, they are called back on stage, to be told their personal background story and the secrets and goals they each have. This is all done in front of the audience, so we will know the complete story, including all personal secrets, in the end. ‘Wouldn’t that be boring then, to see a play you already know from beginning to end?’ I hear you ask. On the contrary! Knowing all this, takes watching a play to a whole new level. The smallest glances and every word will have a lot more meaning. After all, you know their deepest feelings.
If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you may remember I also played a story of ‘Nachtgasten’ with my improv group Schwung. I wrote about it in my angel selfie post. Of course we had to practice the concept beforehand. We did so by playing other stories of Nachtgasten in our training sessions. When seeing the casket, the benches and the lectern, I immediately recognized it from a story I once played myself in a training session. At first I thought it was a shame that I wouldn’t see a story I didn’t know yet. Second later however, I realized I really didnt know this story either. After all, I had only heard the secrets which were spoiled in scenes in which I was actually playing. Besides that, the play is improvised. So even though it was the same story, chances were that it would be completely different from the version I’d played. The story isn’t the crucial part (otherwise, we would have left the theater after it had been read), what matters is what the actors make of it. After this realization, I was actually looking very much forward to see it.
My body was filled with excitement. I had only played this longform before, I had never seen a complete story. It was a truly extraordinary experience. The actors were amazing. They were not afraid to take risks on stage, which resulted in very interesting scenes. One of them kissed her counterpart passionately, another one threw all the flowers of the casket and lied on top of it to hug it. I could feel the love, disgust, hope and despair of the characters. But I could also feel the inner struggle of the actors. I don’t know if this was because I have been in their shoes, or if everyone in the audience could feel this. All I know is that it made the play so much more worthwhile to watch. Having no clue whatsoever about the other actors’ objectives and still being able to give us such a remarkable performance, that is a true gift. It’s funny, even though I’ve played Nachtgasten myself, only now I watched it did I notice how hard it actually is.
But for this performance, the actors added something to the performance that made it even more special. They each had to rehearse a song especially for this performance. Of course, they weren’t told why. One of the characters was an actual musician, who had rehearsed all these songs and then some of his own. At random moments – which were freakishly well timed – the actors would sing their song, while they were accompanied by the piano or the accordion.
Besides the outstanding performance, something else made these people even more special. They invited us all to have a drink at the bar afterwards and to talk with them. They really were interested in hearing our opinions. Not many actors bother to mingle with their audience and show that they’re normal people as well, do they?
This was a very special night. I had bought the tickets for Nachtgasten for Ruud’s birthday and he told me afterwards this was the best birthday gift he ever got. So I reckon we will be seeing a lot more performances of Nachtgasten in the future! Which would be convenient, because I still have 22 theater shows to watch to reach my goal. If you also got curious and happen to live in the Netherlands, be sure to check out their tour dates!