The Neutrino Project

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Time Out Chicago Issue 23: Aug 4ŠAug 11, 2005

Straight to video

FuzzyCo takes improv off of the stage and into the streets

By Mark Sinclair

SCREEN PLAY All the world's a stage for the actors in "Neutrino Project".

In most improv, you can create anything," says Fuzzy Gerdes, who does double duty as both producer and performer with the Neutrino Project. "You can say, 'Why look--we're in Borneo, and I have a laser gun.' You can just create it. In Neutrino, we're stuck with the real world."

The unforgiving real world is the backdrop for Gerdes's innovative show, in which a 50-minute movie is filmed and screened in just more than an hour. But while reality takes away some freedoms, the video element gives Neutrino performers something no stage-based improvisers have: quiet.

"The littlest reaction you can have on stage, you still have to exaggerate," Gerdes says. "When you want to whisper, you have to stage whisper," loud enough so that the whole room can hear. "We can do real whispers, and really subtle reactions."

Nuance is what makes Neutrino, which begins its latest run Friday 5 at Improv Kitchen, more than a gimmick. In a city where improv shows have featured a duo riding bicycles in place while onstage, avoiding gimmicks is far from easy.

The Chicago Neutrino began in 2002, shortly after Gerdes and fellow improviser Shaun Himmerick saw Neutrino--the New York–based troupe that originated the concept--perform its version.

"We were just blown away by it," Gerdes says. "After the end of the show, Shaun turned to me and said, 'We need to do this.'"

Happily, the New Yorkers were more than willing to allow Gerdes and Himmerick to adapt their idea, asking only that the duo retain the name "Neutrino" in the show's title. The pair, along with Gerdes's troupe, FuzzyCo, launched its first run at the WNEP Theater with a two-show preview.

"We weren't sure if it was going to work. It's a challenging and technically complex show," Gerdes says. But it was a success, and FuzzyCo ended up doing seven shows at WNEP before taking the piece to I.O. for a month. Later, the troupe launched runs at the Lakeshore Theater and 3 Penny Cinema.

Although the details have been refined over time, the structure remains the same: The cast is split up into teams consisting of two or three actors, a camera operator and a runner, who transports the tapes between scene locations and the theater.

The actors solicit suggestions from the audience, and ask for objects to incorporate into the scenes--just to prove it's really improvised. Then the four teams race out into the streets and begin filming.

The first team has five minutes to get a scene on tape, while the audience watches an introductory video. After capturing two minutes of action, the runner hustles the footage back to the theater. The unedited tape immediately flickers on to the Improv Kitchen's many flat-screen TVs. The entire process takes about seven to eight minutes. During that time, the other teams have been taping their first scenes.

"When everything works perfectly, which it often does, just as tape one ends, tape two gets to the theater and is thrown into the player," Gerdes says.

Scenes from the third and fourth teams follow in the same manner, and by the time those end, the first team has shot its next scene. It's a frantic race to produce two minutes of film every eight minutes.

"It's nice doing it in the summer," says Lillian Frances, who has performed in previous runs and is acting as the show's director. "We were running in the snow and ice, and the runners really have to run those tapes back."

In the past, once the movie had begun, it continued uninterrupted for 50 minutes. But because the Improv Kitchen needs time to take orders and serve food halfway through, during this run, the cast will get a 20-minute break. The teams plan to use the extra time to tape fake outtakes and bloopers, which they'll show at the end.

All of this effort runs the teams ragged. "Because it's so challenging, at the end of every run Fuzzy and Shaun say, 'We're never going to do this again,'" Frances says. "And then a few months go by and they go, 'Let's do Neutrino,' because it's so rewarding."

Neutrino Project is shot, wrapped and shown Fridays at 9pm at Improv Kitchen.

The Neutrino Project | Cast | Press & Reviews | Photos | History | Journal

Questions about FuzzyCo may be directed to Fuzzy Gerdes,