Published in Gay and Lesbian Times August 15, 2002
If you like your entertainment interactive, you’ll love TheatreSports. The comedy troupe is part of an international organization based on the storytelling style of Keith Johnstone, author of “Impro,” one of the best-selling books ever published on improvisation. Johnstone’s approach focuses on improvisational narrative through games.
San Diego TheatreSports has been in town, on and off, since 1993; after a brief home-seeking hiatus, they’ve relocated to Hillcrest, in the Swedenborgian Theatre. It’s a bare-bones auditorium, with folding chairs and a little concession stand at the interval. Shows will run on Friday nights as long as folks show up. And, as with all improvisation, you can show up repeatedly, since it’s never the same twice.
This is what’s called competitive improvisation. It’s a clever idea, though the competitive edge is dulled by the fact that all the team-members come from the same company, so they’re as likely to jump in and participate in the other team’s improv as they are to seriously vie for a win.
It’s really just a ploy to get you more involved and enthused. Here’s how it works. Two teams of three are introduced by a Ref who suggests the topics and lays down the ground rules, which focus primarily on keeping it “a family show” — that is, “nothing racist or sexist or generally offensive.” Each ’round’ consists of a game and/or challenge, which stipulates a subject area for play. Then, by means of verbal response, the audience votes on which team won each round, and the final tally determines who won for the evening. Calling out is tricky, needless to say, and the Ref, should he so decide, can pretty well say he’s ‘heard’ whatever he wants. But no one really cares. The audience comes in primed to have fun and yell out and get involved, and they definitely do.
On the night I was there, the ‘challenges’ were topics such as ‘Reconciliation’ or ‘Discovery,’ superstitions or secrets. Each team, of course, accepts the challenge, and then decides by means of what game they will take up the gauntlet. So they may choose games such as ABC, wherein each alternating speaker must start the next utterance with the next letter of the alphabet, in order. Or there’s the Half-Time game, where the players improvise a scene and then do it again and again, in half the time it took for the previous enactment. The minor details are elicited from the audience (a color, a place, a personal experience, a song title, etc.). It’s all great fun watching what the individuals and the group can do, armed only with minimal props and prodigious imaginations.
Ultimately, as in all sports, it’s not the game that matters, it’s how well it’s played. As usual with improv, some skits are better than others and some players are likewise On this night, Andy Barrett was pretty funny as the Ref, and some members of each team were repeatedly imaginative and amusing, especially Milo Shapiro, Lee Krevat and Mike McCafferty.
There’s no deep significance or meaning here, unless the troupe manages to hit some raw nerve (didn’t happen the night I was there, though when they asked for someone to tell about a really amazing day, one guy talked about a bike accident that put him in the hospital for two surgeries. Try turning that into comedy! P.S. They actually managed to do it).
So, volunteer at your own risk; you could be called up onstage, like one woman, whose Christmas as a child was re-enacted by the group. Any time they did something credible, she had to toot a train whistle; but when an utterance or event would not have happened in her house, she blew a horn, which meant they had to try again and replay. Pretty funny stuff when it’s done well… and it was.
“TheatreSports” runs indefinitely, on Friday nights, at the Swedenborgian Theatre in Hillcrest; 619-465-show.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.