Rod Serling, the prolific creator of The Twilight Zone, wrote 92 of the 156 episodes of the original series — but there is little evidence that he did so on the spot in front of a live studio audience. That’s where the folks at Impro Theatre wade into a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity to stage their own original tales from the Twilight Zone, completely unscripted.
Over the past 13 months, the troupe has improvised around 120 different episodes, according to Impro Theatre producing artistic director Dan O’Connor. The ultimate goal is that on the night of the show each improviser knows the genre so well that each decision feels like second nature.
“We kind of steeped ourselves in how Twilight Zone was written so that when we get a suggestion on the night wherever we’re doing it, we know that there’s certain themes that come up,” says O’Connor. “The shows are inspired by the series, but they’re not based on the series. If you went and saw 100 shows in 100 days, you’d never see the same episode.”
For their Charleston Comedy Fest appearance, Impro Theatre will be bringing along a technical improviser who will add music and lighting to color the stage performance, making it as theatrical as possible. And like almost all episodes of The Twilight Zone, which tend to focus on unwitting characters slowly learning of their dark fate, audiences can watch O’Connor and company slowly unravel the poetic justice that awaits them — live in real time — with all the stylized, slow-burn tension that has made The Twilight Zone a lasting piece of popular culture.
“A lot of us have done improv in comedy clubs where if there’s a break in the action you jump in and you make something funny happen. But with Twilight Zone you have to be patient and allow for that moment to sort of sit there for a second,” says O’Connor. “Just like in the episodes of The Twilight Zone, you have to wait for the sort of portal to open up into whatever weird or science fiction or whatever thing might happen. It requires a level of patience for us as improvisers that’s actually really challenging and really fun because we have no idea what the weird ending is going to be.” —Dustin Waters
Impro Theatre’s “Twilight Zone Unscripted”
$15 Fri. Jan. 17 at 8 p.m. Theatre 99