The original idea for An Early Breakfast At Uncle Myrtle’s stemmed from two members of the Reckless Collective Theatre Company in early 2011. The idea was to create a performance piece that was solely improvised, to see how authentically it could be done, as many improvised pieces are very obviously spontaneous and unstructured. The idea was then presented to the rest of the Reckless Collective, and we sought to expand
on it. The original idea was to set the piece around a dinner party, and improvise a conversation between two or three characters. Then, at a point unknown to the three actors, a fourth actor would enter the scene and cause a dilemma. Again, this would all be improvised; it would be up to the fourth actor to decide when he enters, and what the dilemma is. As such, the other three actors’ reactions would be near-to genuine, and what happens next completely unpredictable.
After playing around with this idea, and conducting various rehearsals in which we enter with different, ridiculous scenarios, we were growing less and less fond of the idea. However, the more we did it, the more we realised that there was a very high chance that the improvised dilemma would cause humour in the piece, which we were trying to avoid. Although improvised comedy, when done correctly, is challenging and extremely funny, it’s generally the first point people jump to when improvising. We wanted to change this; we wanted to improvise a ‘serious’ piece, and at the moment, our nameless production was falling into the realms of a comedy. So, we scrapped the idea of any sort of set, any sort of plan, and started over, focusing only on the improvisation.
Despite the piece being improvised, we still needed to rehearse to increase our skill and awareness. One technique that became quite prominent was playing a random music track off of someone’s iTunes and using that as a backing track. We would then, on the spot, have to think about how this particular music made us feel – what emotions, images and thoughts came to mind – and improvise a scene, together, with these motivations. For example, one of the tracks was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which led to us improvising a very melancholy piece. Another was The Outsider by the band Perfect Circle, in which we created a much more ancient-Greek epic style piece. This exercise enabled us to tap in to various emotions and stray away from creating a comedy, and was overall very successful. It also gave us a new ulterior motive: we realised that as we were creating these pieces, weird narratives were appearing. We began to look into why one person reacts in one way to something, and why another person will react differently. Suddenly, our improvised pieces were full of meanings: was one character standing and the others crawling because he was superior? Was this character upstage because he was hiding from the others? Did these two particular characters have a connection that the other two lacked? We realised that an audience will always look for meaning in a piece, even when it isn’t there – which, with regards to ours, it was not. A red light often means danger or anger…or it could just be a red light. An actor may be stood in shadow as to hide him from the others…or he may just be standing in the shadow. This theory would be the foundation for what our piece would become: an improvised piece that’s meaning was that it was meaningless.
Taking roots from our original idea, we decided to call the piece An Early Breakfast At Uncle Myrtle’s. The name is, of course, nonsense, but we found it amusing that an audience would look at that and ponder what it was. It would also inevitably raise the question, who is Uncle Myrtle (Myrtle obviously being a woman’s name)? We began rehearsing some more improvised pieces with this in mind, and decided on a loose structure: the piece would begin with the four actors standing in a circle (the piece was performed in a round) repeating a random action that would be thought up on the spot, as some music (a random track or a predetermined length). When the track finished, we would begin improvising with dialogue and movement, bouncing off of each other, to create a scene, until one of the actors, at the moment of his choice, uttered a cue. When this happened, we would reform the circle, and one by one, in a specific order, recite a small, improvised monologue.
The piece itself, when we performed, took some very interesting turns: one of the actors actually mentioned the name Myrtle, which made this enigmatic character even more of a mystery. There were a couple of moments that were, admittedly, just nonsense, but overall I think that we managed to make the scene, somewhat, make sense. After we had performed, we had a short Q&A with the audience, in which we asked them what they thought. Some of the responses were very interesting, with thoughts of oppression, gender and freedom appearing quite prominently. This was exactly what we had hoped would happen. Someone commented on the fact that all of the actors wore black, which we predicted. Another girl stated how she empathised with it and it made her cry! In the end, I believe the piece was an overall success. People were shocked when we revealed that it was all improvised and that the meaning was that it was meaningless. We had proved our point – that, more often than not, an audience will strive to find meaning, even if there is some. And, as an additional point, the meanings that the audience gave our piece all worked. You could apply several themes or practioner ideologies to An Early Breakfast At Uncle Myrtle’s and it would still make sense in certain peoples’ eyes.