Dirty, filthy soap

By Tara DiBenedetto

"Launch the rocket! Countdown to love!" exclaims Karen Johnson-Diamond, a producer/performer with Calgary’s Dirty Laundry theatre company.

The company, now in its third year, was started by Johnson-Diamond and her friend Elinor Holt, also a producer and performer. Dirty Laundry is Calgary’s only live and completely improvised comedy soap opera. It was inspired by Dynasty, a comedy soap in Edmonton, in which Johnson-Diamond made a number of appearances.

"The idea behind the birth of Dirty Laundry was to have that kind of fun here," said Johnson-Diamond. "There’s not a lot of opportunity for improv… [Dirty Laundry] is a chance for us to stretch our improv muscle and have a great time with friends. We call it our actors’ bowling night."

The company’s third season is entitled "Lust in Space: Dirty Laundry aboard the U.S.S. Love Rocket," which Johnson-diamond describes as the cast of Battlestar Galactica aboard the Love Boat.

"All [the actors] know going in what the scenario is: the intergalactic space ship, the crew and the passengers," she says.

According to Johnson-Diamond, the characters include, "Enson Expendable [played by Tony Eyamie], the crew member whose life is sacrificed in every episode, the ship’s captain and first officer, the medical officer and cruise director, and passengers that are falling in love." Sheri Wattling plays Musty O’dour, a "young widow at large."

"You never really know where the storylines will go," says Wattling. "It all depends on what comes out of our mouths on stage."

Storylines are often driven by the audience.

"Our audience is very loyal, and they very much feel like they are a part of the show. They get to know the characters and what we excel at," says Wattling. "For example, some members of our group are great at improvising songs, and you’ll frequently hear the audience yelling ‘Sing about it!’ It’s very interactive and a lot of fun."

Every evening, the audience is asked to fill out "You Can Call the Shots" forms. During future performances, director Mark Bellamy pulls out one of these forms and create the requested scene. Dirty Laundry also has a three piece band, which provides improvised songs every single night, and the score for the company’s improvised "musical night," where all lines are sung. Other special nights include themed holidays and an audience choice episode, where the audience gets to control the scene.

"In this criuise ship, the audience basically has to come on board with us," says Johnson-Diamond. "We always acknowledge the audience, but we don’t always listen to them."

Dirty Laundry aims to offer value with their productions, as well.

"Our goal is to keep it within the cost of doing laundry," she says, hoping Dirty Laundry will become a weekly staple for audiences.

"It’s completely unpredictable. It’s an unscripted, unrehearsed weekly serial, and every single week there is a cliffhanger," says Johnson-Diamond. "People do get addicted to it like it is a soap opera. After all, Sunday night is laundry night."

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