Theatre 99 co-owner and improv vet Greg Tavares has fostered some long-term creative relationships over the years. The first being, of course, Theatre 99 co-owner and, as Tavares describes her, “a fuckin monster on stage,” Brandy Sullivan. Other than Sullivan, though, Tavares’ most prolific partner in funny has been Lee Lewis, a pyschiatrist at MUSC — since 2004, the two have been taking the stage as improv duo Moral Fixation.
“We’ve done plays together, we’ve written things together,” says Tavares. “People use these words to describe how it must feel to improvise [with Lewis] ‘oh I bet you guys, you’ve been working together so long, I bet you know what he’s gonna say.'” Not the case, says Tavares. “It’s like being with a brother or sister or significant other. You let your guard down.” After years of bouncing narratives off each other, of course there’s a certain flow, an expected rhythm. But emotions can still run high. “You have to leave it on the field when you’re doing improv,” says Tavares. “You’re always going to get frustrated at some point.”
Navigating the science of improv (Tavares has quite literally written a book on the subject) is not just beneficial for Theatre 99’ers. Tavares and Lewis take this skill to medical workshops. “He [Lewis] does an awesome presentation for the doctors … there’s a ton of specific stuff, we teach all the things we do in improvisation where you have to read messages from your partner in a heightened way.”
Reading your partner is critical for Moral Fixation; unlike a large ensemble, Tavares says the narratives the duo crafts and the characters they create have to possess some staying power. “With Moral Fixation we’re definitely exploring, we may end up getting into bigger emotional moments. It’s the longest show form I’ve been a part of,” says Tavares. An eight minute sketch is lengthy in the world of improv, and in that time Tavares says he may only play up to three characters. “I have to bite into it a little bit,” says Tavares. “With a big ensemble I can be really risky, over the top. With Moral fixation whoever I become … I have to be OK with that character.”