Will work for ‘Sax’

Oscar Melendrez

Friday night marks the finale of Sax & Dixon, the frantic performance play that’s been sparking student theater for four consecutive years. The two performers, Matt Sax and John Dixon, both Communication seniors, are ready to step onstage one last time for this year’s version, Are Town, and leave it all behind the night before Dillo Day.

“Sax & Dixon is a two-man, multi-character, multi-plot play set on a bare stage, with no sets, no costumes, no props,” says director Peter McNerney (Communication ’05). “It’s very sketch-comedy influenced and we use improvisation to write everything.”

The minimalist show starts with an array of “seemingly unrelated sketches and characters.” But toward the end, the characters are all brought together in one location, they interact with one another to create a comedic commotion leading to a climax, McNerney explains.

“I’ve lived in New York since I graduated and I came back solely (to direct the last year of Sax & Dixon),” says McNerney.

The show’s beginnings can be traced to a Roots concert in 2002, when Sax met Dixon. Dixon had a scar on his hand and Sax (a Young Simba understudy in the original production of The Lion King) had Scar, an evil uncle who killed his father and forced him to leave the Pride Lands only to come back years later as a mature lion ready to rule. A two-man show was the next logical step.

“We began writing together and started playing with the idea that our improv writing might translate into sketches,” Sax says. “We approached Peter (McNerney), who was my coach for Titanic Players, and asked him if he would be the director.”

After showing a few sketches to the Vertigo board, the student group decided to make Sax & Dixon a Vertigo Special Production.

“We start writing the show two months before the performance, and week by week we improvise something new until the day before the show,” McNerney says.

But most of the improvisation stops there.

“The performance has become more scripted because the storylines have become more intricate and the intertwining has become more complex,” Dixon says. “It’s crucial that we hit certain details for the show to work.”

Whether it’s breaking the laws of physics or breaking the hearts of audiences, Sax & Dixon continues improving on the innovative tradition that started the project.

“This is the most grounded show that we’ve done, but in some aspects it’s the most absurd,” McNerney says. “It goes to the extremes.”

Sax believes that this possibility to experiment is made possible by the open atmosphere at NU.

“Northwestern is a very creatively safe environment with great opportunities, and it’s very thrilling to be a part of it,” Sax says.

Sax & Dixon may be saying farewell to NU, but the story does not end there. Last year’s show, This Plane Is Definitely Crashing, has been accepted to perform at the New York Fringe Festival in New York City starting Aug. 11. With 250 shows selected to be a part of the festival, This Plane will get five to seven performances in Lower Manhattan – five to seven opportunities to take it to the extreme.

“I’m happy to follow wherever the path takes us, who knows what we’ll find,” McNerney says.

“I have no idea what to expect. Best case scenario: Someone likes the show – someone with power – and they decide to fund it. But I’m really not thinking about that right now,” Dixon says. “I’m excited to see what anyone else thinks about it, besides NU.”

In the Sax & Dixon career, the creators have only encountered one person who didn’t appreciate the show’s versatile humor.

“If they want to bring us down, they can go ahead,” Dixon says as he spontaneously stands up and begins stomping around the room, arms up in the air, flushed with unexpected energy.

But no one believes in the show more than the people who have worked on it.

“I’m going to get Stephen Colbert to see the show,” says producer Joshua Sherman, a Weinberg junior. “I’m going to use every single resource that’s available to me to make it happen.”

But Sax & Dixon likes to take things one step at a time, even with the writing.

“(Are Town) won’t be finished until the night before the show opens, so as people read this article, we’re still going to be writing it,” Dixon says.

The show is constantly evolving, the comedy under a state of flux. But in the Sax & Dixon universe of diverse characters, there are two that stand out – Matt and John, the real Sax and Dixon.

“We were the first thing ever to perform on the night before Dillo Day,” Sax says. “Now there are so many things going on. But who owns this night? We own it.”

Sax & Dixon: Are Town will be performed on Friday at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m in the Louis Room. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door.4

Medill sophomore Oscar Melendrez is the PLAY theater editor. He can be reached at [email protected]