iO’s Improvised Shakespeare Company Makes Magic; Art Institute’s Supernatural Shakespeare Manifests Mystery

The Bard’s magic and mystery manifests itself in three and two dimensions as part of the ongoing Shakespeare 400 Chicago celebration: a talented ensemble harnesses the power of Will’s theatrical conventions to frame and fuel amazing improvisation, and a trio of etchings celebrates Shakespeare’s supernatural characters who ignited new interest in his work during the 19th century.


The Improvised Shakespeare Company has been creating impromptu iambs before the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death year, and hopefully will continue to create their well-devised one-off texts for many more.

The nimble quartet of men (yet another Shakespearean homage – only Y-chromosomed individuals populate on stage), in laced-up shirts and black breeches, present the “opening and closing night” of a play never written, never to be seen again, “assuming the linear theory of time,” no lines memorized and characters created on the spot.

These “de Boys” expertly layered Shakespeare’s familiar early modern devices on the evening’s suggested title, “Don’t Scratch My Nose,” starting with a soliloquy prologue. Most scenes within the two acts ended with rhyming couplets, notably “Asia” and “rosacea,” as well as “loud carriage” and marriage.”

The narrative included war and tension between England and France, and arranged marriages to be tested by disguise, as well as coaches for the political wooing (although, since the English killed almost everyone on the continent, there was no one left to marry). The befuddled Archbishop was also the doorman, “as was his duty.”

The familiar trio of assassins also made an appearance – one with dagger fingers, one wielding poisoned feet, and the final incompetent had sharpened hipbones because “hips don’t lie,” Shakira-style.

Ghosts were in full force too, although a rooster cry had them scuttling away “back to our sepulchers or something.”

The improv chops were as effortless as the poetry and prose: when an imaginary podium was presented, it was embraced throughout scenes because “who’s not going to use a podium?”

The obvious was acknowledged too: “Why does the woman not speak?”

“Because I killed her.”

Parables were played with, from which the evening’s fish runner emerged, starting with “what do a pond and fish represent?” migrating to riffs on whales, snakes and women.

The epilogue put a button on the fishy patter – “just for the halibut” – and, in the end, there was “nothing left to say / the Prince of England made me a fillet.”

The ensemble deserves prodigious praise for continuously creating a canon every weekend, and for mining endless fodder within the pentameter structure.

Mid Titania 

For a two-dimensional experience, Gothic artist Henri Fuseli created a trio of engravings, black on ivory wove paper, for London’s Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, which helped revitalize The Bard’s revival in the 1800s.

As yet another piece of Chicago’s Shakespeare 400 Festival, the Art Institute’s display of Supernatural Shakespeare runs through the autumn, and features the evil – “The Witches Appear to Macbeth and Banquo” (1798), where the weird sisters “hover through the fog and filthy air” over the ambitious Scottish general and his doomed friend, perhaps predicting or possibly spurring their actions – and the comic – “Titania and Bottom with Ass’s Head” (1796), showing the faerie queen and her magical coterie wooing the enchanted mechanical:

Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk roses in thy sleek smooth head,
And kiss they fair large ears, my gentle joy (4.1.1-4).

“The Nursery of Shakespeare” (1810), by Moses Haughton II, after Fuseli, shows the writer as a babe in the arms of Comedy and Tragedy, already invoking the fantastic that would eventually populate his output, including Caliban, Falstaff, the Macbeths and witches as well, plus other lesser creatures.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company runs every Thursday at 8pm, and every Friday and Saturday at 8 and 10:30pm, at iO Chicago’s Del Close Theater, 1501 N. Kingsbury St. Tickets and information are available at 773-880-0199 and

Supernatural Shakespeare is on display in Gallery 219A through October 10 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan.

Mid Evil 2

Karin McKie
Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.

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