Over 50 DC theater companies have joined together this fall to showcase new work written by women. All the big names in the area ranging from Arena Stage and The Studio Theatre to Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth will make their contribution and on Thursday September 17, 2015, Washington Improv Theater had its opening night of The October Issue. Showcasing the improvisational talents of a ten-woman ensemble, The October Issue was a riot from start to finish.
Directed and hosted by Jaci Pulice, the show is comprised of a series of skits revolving around the theme of a women’s magazine. The actors assumed the roles of the staff writers, and they explored different areas ranging from advice columns to exposés on the challenges women face while working in politics.
In the press release for The October Issue, Pulice explains that reading magazines always feels like the “world’s best slumber party,” but many women feel the opposite. She says, “They feel disconnected from the publication’s ideals and priorities. They don’t hear their voices represented.” From this observation, The October Issue was born, creating a “magazine” that is entirely based on the readers’ voices, which included every aspect of the production from the actors’ scenes to the special guests.
Each performance will welcome a special guest from the audience to the stage for an interview with Jaci Pulice. In their opening night performance, DC Council Woman Brianne Nadeau shared some of her experiences as a woman on the Hill, which included a particularly funny comment on the “glass ceiling,” and its role in preventing women from moving farther in politics. Nadeau argued that rather than the ceiling, the true challenge is the “marble floor” that makes it difficult for women to run in heels. The audience laughed, but her anecdote also added another level to the production. While The October Issue skits were hilarious, Pulice’s choice to include real-women success stories truly made her vision for a relatable and inspiring magazine come alive.
Staying true to the goal of embracing the readers’ voices, the ten artists took suggestions from the audience to inform their performance, beginning with the opening skit.
Upon entering the theater, audience members are invited to fill out a slip of paper asking them to either share an embarrassing moment or ask for advice. While this may feel unsettling, I advise you to take this risk.
The play opens with a staff meeting between the “writers” for the magazine as they generate new ideas for stories. The ensemble worked well together through their comedic timing and ability to play off each other’s suggestions; however, that which made the scene even funnier was that the ideas stemmed from the slips of paper with audience contributions.
One amusing example was from a 29-year-old male audience member who asked, “How do I only have meaningful sex for the rest of my life, but still have it always be hot and dirty?” The women on stage transformed the amusing slip of paper into a debate on modern dating. While some argued that the only answer could be marriage, others fought in favor of long term dating, or even a series of consistent, short-term relationships. The discussion not only made for a funny interaction to watch unfold in the moment, but also became a reoccurring joke throughout the production.
The actors showcased their truly impressive improvisational talent through their ability to not only build on the small contributions and transform them into hilarious bits, but to take in the audience laughter, and figure out which bits they could repeat later in the performance in order to enhance the comedy. Pulice explains in the program, “Improvisation is the perfect medium for a magazine that welcomes all female readers,” and the actors brought that vision to life through working in an environment that the audience created.
While all of the actors worked wonderfully as an ensemble, there were a couple women who stood out. Lura Barber was brilliant in her ability to shoot out an idea when a scene seemed to be falling. If one of her ensemble members seemed to be struggling, she could always be counted on to jump in and move the story along in a comedic manner.
Jenna Hall showcased excellent comedic timing, and proved strength in accepting any idea thrown her way, such as in one of her earlier scenes involving a gardening retreat with Caroline Pettit, who was also absolutely hilarious with her darker humor. The two actors played off each other perfectly, and took a story that began with simple gardening and ended with praying to the great “God Bagnulia” to help them learn to use their gardening tools. The audience could not stop laughing, and this became a bit that was repeatedly brought back throughout the production.
Wit, talented actors, and brilliant improvisational skills make The October Issue a must-see event. Pulice created a production that embraced the purpose of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. She found a way to include voices from both those performing on stage and those in the audience, and based on the roar of applause at the end of the piece, I would say the audience had just as much fun as I did.
Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.
DCMetroTheaterArts coverage of The Women’s Voices Theater Festival.