by Liam Hofmeister, inside editor
A scene at the Boston Unscripted Musical Project (BUMP) may start as an innocently choreographed and harmonized musical number. Quickly, the singing can degenerate into a raging mob of actors, repeatedly screaming at the audience “You suck.”
At the Boston Button Factory on the first and third Fridays of every month, the BUMP team improvises a unique musical. BUMP actors let their imaginations take over as a one-hour-long comedy show grows from a single audience suggestion.
“All the lines, all the music, all made up,” Pablo Rojas, founder and executive producer of BUMP, said as he introduced the raucous improv musical.
Misch Whitaker, actor and director, said the transient nature of the musicals makes them important to audience members.
“We all share and experience a unique moment in the room,” Whitaker said. “We’re like tightrope walkers. The actors don’t know where the show is going, but we know we’ll never have that moment again.”
According to Rojas, though BUMP is a musical project, the show puts the story before the singing quality.
“You don’t have to be a great singer for this,” he said. “You just have to know how to use your voice. [We’re] really looking for strong storytelling skills.”
At the 8 p.m. performance last Friday, a man in the front row screamed “don’t even try” as a suggestion for the night’s theme, which the actors were ready to roll with.
The first scene depicted an unnamed female marketer’s conflicting love for advertising and fear of giving presentations. The next vignette focused on a new worker at the urban advertising firm named Max, a man raised in an ambiguous “field” who is ignorant to everything about society.
“I didn’t even know buildings existed, or that they could be this big,” Max said of his new environment.
The scenes began as pretty separate, but in improv, it is the actors’ responsibility to make these independent paths cross. According to Mac Gostow, the actor playing Max, the recognition that a story is coming together makes a special experience for both actors and audiences.
“It’s a mutual ‘aha’ moment. The audience sees us discovering something and it’s exciting for them to be there for that moment,” he said.
The two protagonists come together on a train when the female character pays for Max’s train ticket. Max didn’t understand the concept of trains, or paying, or even that he could get off the train, so she decided to help him out. After a conversation about advertising, the pair become friends and eventually fall in love.
However, Max has a dark past as Max to the city, longing for his affections, and after a scene of poor ballet, kidnap Max’s new girlfriend instead and turn her into their ballerina slave.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Max’s girlfriend is a natural. One ballerina named Olga said “she’s so good she doesn’t even try,” bringing the title of the show full circle and leading to an almost choreographed and harmonized finish.
The plot may be a bit confusing, though, based on audience reaction, captivating. The crowd of 30 stood on its feet to applaud at the end of the show.
According to actor Mac Gostow, the long form of this one-hour musical catches an audience in a way that slapstick improv cannot.
“There’s a whole narrative and narrative arc,” Gostow said. “It’s full-length. We’re not just throwing jokes away. It’s tying a story together, so when [the audience] laughs, it comes from a deeper place.”
Established in 2012, BUMP served as the root for other shows that Rojas’ production company, Catalyst Company, supports. “Dirty Disney,” an improvised and raunchy take on Disney stories, and “KERPLUNK!,” an interactive children’s choose-your-own-adventure show, both grew out of BUMP.
“We are definitely some of the first people to say we’re making this our thing in a professional way,” Rojas said. “There’s no other group like us [in Boston]. The consistent quality of the show lets us stand apart.”
Photo Courtesy Caitlin Cunningham/BUMP