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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Un-Scripted Theatre's Act One, Scene Two Unites Improv and Playwrights

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge act_one_scene_two.jpg

Act One, Scene Two, the new Un-scripted Theater Company show at SF Playhouse, might be one of their most challenging productions yet. The company solicited local playwrights to submit the first scene of an unproduced script, one for each night of the run.

Then, in the first half of each show, Un-scripted opens with a cold read of one scene from one play, as well as an interview with the playwrights to learn more about their vision. The company then finishes the play, completely improvising a second scene. It's a unique blend of scripted and improvised theater.

Someone looking for a laugh-a-minute, joke-filled Whose Line Is It Anyway?-type improv performance will not get that here. The company believes its audiences are not limited by such narrow expectations. "You would never hear someone say, 'Oh, I've seen movies. I don't like movies,'" explains Christian Utzman, founding member and performer.

Cast member Clay Robeson adds, "It's the same thing with improv. Improv is not just one type of entertainment. It's just one type of medium in which to tell a story. People should not just limit themselves to their preconceived idea of an improv comedy performance. Improvisation can be can also be tragic, dramatic, musical, as well as comedic."

Un-scripted has been experimenting with daring formats. Past shows include Improvised Playwrights, Shakespeare, the Musical, and The Great Puppet Musical. They blend short-form improv comedy based in Chicago-style improv, traditional acting techniques, and storytelling to create a style that is uniquely San Francisco.

Company literary director Alan Goy selected the submissions according to quality and the feasibility of staging. True to the spirit of improvisation, he has not shared any of the details of the plays with the performers. During a rehearsal we caught a couple of weeks back, show director Mandy Khoshnevisan led exercises in practicing accents, just in case they came up in any of the plays.

Questions arose about the set design and lighting. Khoshnevisan confidently assured all involved that this didn't matter, that it would be worked out, that it would all come together somehow.

The company members were appeased, and continued with their lively rehearsal. You might expect that in a mere week before opening a show, these elements would be something to stress about and a director would want to have even the slightest details in place. The Un-scripted company does not have the anxiety about these aspects of the show because they subscribe to the idea that the best show is one in which all the elements come together at the time of the performance and the importance of trusting each other onstage.

The Un-scripted season lineup also includes a week-long October run of Fear, an improvised horror story, and in December, the return of A Tale of Two Genres, in which the audience suggest a genre that will be performed as if written by Charles Dickens.

After that? Robeson says that one day, he'd love to perform a "fully improvised rock opera."

Act One, Scene Two runs through Aug. 20 at the SF Playhouse, Stage 2 at 533 Sutter (at Powell). Tickets are $20 general; $10 students & seniors.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Robin Hardwick


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