After seeing Raymond Williams’s 7 Minutes in Heaven improv show last Friday night I felt elated, excited, and eager. I traditionally feel this way after good improv shows. I get hyped up when I have the chance to see actors fully immerse themselves into characters. The advantage of the long-form 7 Minutes is that these actors only discover the nuances of their characters through discussion with others. The element of surprise is ever-present, and that makes it just plain fun.
7 Minutes is improvised speed-dating. Williams has produced it in a variety of environments with a bunch of different actors, so my first time was their first time in that space (Seattle Creative Arts Center), with that group. Williams also doesn’t know who the characters will be before they arrive, but trusts the actors to bring in someone they’ve been cultivating. There is some structure to the evening overall, but because no one knows who anyone else is, there is plenty of opportunity for surprise.
Set up like regular speed dating, the characters enter the space ready to mingle with each other and the audience. Then they take their seats. Not every character has the chance to meet, because then the show would be about two hours long (or more). Instead, one set of characters stay seated as the other half rotate to the different tables. They each have seven minutes to chat and rate each other. The audience can choose which dates to watch and for how long.
I opted to bounce around, getting close to tables but sometimes staying within ear shot of neighboring tables so I could eavesdrop on several conversations at once. The urge to participate was overwhelming. The audience were specifically instructed not to participate in the dates if they had not “paid the registration fee.” We did get to play with the characters during the open mingle before the dates started, but otherwise we were in full observation mode. But being given the opportunity to walk around, watch a character or interaction that seemed funny/interesting/weird made the experience so enjoyable. I got to craft my own evening of entertainment. How often do you get to say that?
After the dates, the daters choose their matches. It was naturally hilarious. I wasn’t rooting for anyone in particular, but I was especially pleased when the guy who was 10-years married and the dark poet found a match in each other. Another character chose her boyfriend Ric, who silently followed her around the entire evening. Another declared that because we are all human and all connected, “Yes.”
The contrast between a traditional theatre introduction and the speed dating atmosphere clashed in a way I did not like. I wanted to feel like I was in an awkward speed dating event from the moment I walked in the door. I think encouraging the house manager to play along and having a host character would allow Williams to fully step into the producer role. The house manager could act like they’ve been roped into hosting this awkward evening and the host could create his/her own character to play along with the other actors. Then Williams could be the point person for producing the show. I think the result would be a seamless evening of awkwardness, which is a fun place to be.
I’m excited to see this show again. Knowing there will be different characters and a different environment will keep it fresh! The next performance is scheduled for late April or May, but I don’t know the exact date. Will update when I know more.
And kudos to the newly created Pocket Theater for producing. They’re doing a variety of improvised shows, sketch comedy, stand-up comedy, and fringe theatre, providing a new venue for Seattle theatre. It’s fucking awesome.