Four actors dressed in medieval garb surround another man who has fainted

What’s In a Name? For The Improvised Shakespeare Company, Lots of Laughs

From the archives: this article was originally published on January 8, 2020

Every performance of The Improvised Shakespeare Company is inspired by a title suggested by an audience member. This ensemble of five highly trained improv comedians then invent a full, one-time-only play based entirely on that title. How does that add up over time? Consider that The Improvised Shakespeare Company has created approximately 229 completely unique, unrehearsed plays during its 4 Denver visits.

Five actors dressed in stockings, breeches, and billowy shirts stand onstage

The Improvised Shakespeare Company. Photo by Dave Lenk

From the prologue to the epilogue, this group of deft Shakespearean improvisers maintain a sense of play as they invent characters and plots that (most of the time) come off as remarkably faithful to Shakespeare himself. Granted, the Bard might not have chosen to end his little-known tragedy All Is True in a bloodbath involving a pack of feral … orphans. Then again: You try writing a completely new play every night, Shakespeare!

It all starts with the title, and from the thousands of fun suggestions this Chicago-born comedy company has taken and tackled over the years, founder Blaine Swen does have his personal favorites, among them The Rocky Hamlet Picture Show. He also recalls performing a show for students who chose the title Justin Bieber — as if that were a sober history play with the gravitas of Julius Caesar or Henry V. “We had to give Justin Bieber a lot of import,” added company member Joey Bland. “So in our story, he was this wandering knight who gets killed by the Brothers Jonas.”

Check out the complete list of The Improvised Shakespeare Company’s Denver titles

Four actors dressed in medieval garb surround another man who has fainted

The Improvised Shakespeare Company. Photo by Dave Lenk

To give you a taste of the fun, consider this list of 10 of the funniest audience-suggested titles from the 2020 engagement:

    1. A Midsummer’s Bowling League
    2. The Sonnets of the Lambs
    3. The Phantom of the Globe
    4. All’s Well That Ends in Hell
    5. Three Pussycats of Verona
    6. Much Ado About the Pancreas
    7. 12th Night Stand
    8. The Taming of the Beard
    9. The Goose, the Gladiator & the Grave
    10. The Mysterious Wet Willie

The Improvised Shakespeare Company
Feb 7 – March 31, 2024 · Garner Galleria Theatre