08 Fringe: “Improscaping”

Susanne Carter, Improscaping 

For the 7:30 slot of the Monday evening of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival, I walked over to the Phoenix Theatre to see “Improscaping,” by Susanne Carter of Carter Productions.

On the final Sunday of the 2008 Fringe, I paid to see it a second time.  This collection of polished concept pieces moved me to tears as I watched, and continues to inspire me in my own creative projects.

The individual pieces are grouped around the theme of body image.  Some are funny, others are sensual.  During the Q&A period afterwards, Carter said that she played with various ideas in her studio as she tried to create visual landscapes for her audience using dance, props, and music.

The “dance improvisations,” therefore, are not actually improvised on the spot, in front of the audience.  However, Carter does incorporate the audience into the pieces to some extent, without losing the integrity of the ‘scapes she has sculpted in advance.  I liked knowing that she had made many of her artistic choices ahead of time.

Those choices include a rich variety of music, from jazz to classical to circus-y and more.  The one-woman show also includes a wealth of costumes, from a wacky, ruffled bathing cap and long, black swimming outfit, to a playfully slashed red dress accessorized with mile-long fabric earrings, to a sexy binding by an endless golden scarf over a creamy body suit, and more.  Carter also uses unexpected, but perfectly chosen, props as dance partners of a sort – from beach towels to a brocade-covered ottoman to an armful of bathroom scales and more.

In between the pieces, we listen to various people from Carter’s life – everyone from her chiropractor to her hair dresser to her husband – talk about their relationships to her and their advice for her.

Normally, the presence of a lot of recorded narration in a live theatre piece annoys me, but in this piece, it works for me for three reasons:  1) It adds another layer of playfulness – you’re pretty sure Carter has included all of these people because she loves them, but you’re not quite sure whether Carter is saying she takes all their well-meant advice seriously or not; 2) The lights go out completely during the narration, so it is easy to concentrate on what is being said; 3) It obviously gives Carter a chance to change costumes.  I’m okay with that obviousness, especially since the narration adds to the richness of the show rather than diluting it.

Also…well, before I get hate mail for pointing out a performer’s age and appearance, let me say that I’m sure many other people will appreciate this show for its graceful and hilarious dancing, its diversity of music, its diversity of costumes, props, and other visuals, its diversity of topics within a cohesive overall theme, and so on.


One of the reasons that this piece spoke so powerfully to me, and the reason I paid to see it a second time, was because the dancer was around my age and, as she herself describes herself, “short and stocky.”  The fact that a middle-aged woman has created a witty show that beautifully celebrates her strong and flexible body without being drippy about it is inspiring to me.

Artist Susanne Carter is “just” doing her art, “just” being who she is. 

What a concept.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Notes from the program – “Collaborating Artists: Vanessa Andrew, costumes, Daniel C. Gnader, recording engineer, photos by Troy Freund, Colin Gawronski, stage manager and lighting designer.”  Colin also told me to be sure to thank Dani Norberg from the Phoenix Theatre staff for running lights and sound for them at the Indy Fringe. “Interviews courtesy of: Vanessa Andrew, Paul Carter, Troy Freund, Dr. Donn T. Gurske, Susan L. Nierodi, Katherine Zavada.”

2 thoughts on “08 Fringe: “Improscaping””

  1. Hope, what a wonderful Blog and review of Improscaping. Each one of your points presented in this review/article/blog is precisely to the point of my intent. So glad and honored and flattered that you would have conisidered coming a second time.

    I hope to see you HOPE, next year. I am very inspired by the Indy Fringe and want to come back. It was a transformative experience for me. Please email me during the year.

    My plans are to book Improscaping into other venues and to keep the work evolving. I am also embarking on new work which I hope to bring to Indy. This is a benchmark of success for me to work two shows at the same time.

    I am toying with the idea for another show about confronting my father’s Alzheimer’s interspersed with humor, cucumbers and god knows what else.

    You are so wonderful. Thank you thank you thank you.

  2. Yay! Thanks for reading, Susanne, and for leaving a comment. I will definitely keep in touch with you this next year. I will also look forward to seeing your next show.

    Bring on the cucumbers!

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