KPBS AIRDATE: August 23, 2002
Here’s a spectator sport that doesn’t make you scream yourself hoarse — though it may make you laugh yourself silly. It’s TheatreSports, the improvisational comedy that adds team competition and audience participation to the theatrical exercise. In this activity, you’re not just an onlooker; your ideas grease the wheels of the game.
And ‘game’ would be the operative word. Based on the improvisational philosophy of Keith Johnstone, this competitive improv is a series of games that a team can win. There’s a ref and there are challenge matches, instant replays, half-time, the whole nine yards. It’s hoop dreams for the quick-witted and fast-paced performer.
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.
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 or challenge, which stipulates a subject area for play. Then, by means of calling out, the audience votes on which team won each round, and the final tally determines who won for the evening. But no one really cares. The audience comes in primed to have fun and call 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 activities such as gibberish poetry or 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.
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 especially imaginative and amusing, particularly Milo Shapiro, Lee Krevat and Mike McCafferty.
There’s no deep significance or social value here, but it’s a really fun, interactive night out… If you’re game, so are they.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.