Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Protagonists, Jokes, Conspiracies

(Check out the guy on the end...)

Last weekend’s shows were fun. I wanted a shot at being the protagonist in both shows I was in, so I went out in the first scene both times. Unfortunately both times the protagonist instantly landed on someone else. I suspect that one key to becoming the protagonist is to make a big physical offer as soon as the first scene starts. Andy did that on Friday and Zack did that on Saturday and both pretty much instantly became the protagonist.

I’ve also noticed that both times in rehearsal that I’ve started a scene by scrubbing the floor, I instantly became the protagonist. I don’ t know if that’s further evidence of the “making a big physical offer makes you the protagonist” theory, or if there’s some “Cinderella complex” associated with scrubbing the floor that makes you the protagonist in that instance.

But Monday, I was talking to Susan, who had heard all about Friday’s show from Tara and Susan pointed out something that had never occurred to me. I have developed a rather specialized niche during long form of becoming the protagonist of the B plot. I’m not who the show’s about, but I’m frequently who the side plot is about.

On Friday I was a bee keeper/heroin dealer who kept coming up with ludicrous conspiracy theories as to why the bees were disappearing. Christian, playing another bee keeper, and Tim (as puppet Larry) playing a hick farmer, and I served as the “clowns” in a very Shakespearean-like plot for the show. It was great fun and I spent the entire show setting myself up for a joke that I was able to land the punch-line for right at the end. It was the longest I’ve ever knowingly set myself up for a joke. Odd, but very satisfying.

What was the joke? Well, you had to be there, but… basically I kept coming up with outlandish reasons the bees were disappearing. The real reason the bees were disappearing, as endowed early in the show by Amy, was that aliens were taking them back to their home-world where bees originated. So when my character found out aliens were taking the bees, he said “that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.”

Here’s brief summaries of the shows:
Thursday: To Be or Not To Be
When Greg (Dave) moves out of his apartment to pursue his dreams of being an actor, he leaves his room-mate Billy (Zack as puppet Dungeon) behind. But a Kent State Shakespeare Festival production of Hamlet teaches Greg and Billy that there's more to life than video games and acting exercises.

Friday: To Bee or Not to Bee
A group of bee keepers, led by Kevin (Andy) go on a mission to discover why all the bees are mysteriously disappearing. Along the way Kevin meets Patricia (Tara as puppet Petal), a young aspiring bee keeping student, and they fall in love. But when Kevin finds out Patricia is really an alien being sent to collect all the bees to return to their home world, what will he choose? To bee or not to bee?

Saturday: Monster Steps
Eustace (Zack as puppet Dungeon) leaves home to use his geology degree in the mines. He falls in love with worker's rights activist Kelly (Amy) and has to come to grips with his own self image as he prepares to a Monster/Human relationship. Can they ever work? If you were at the show, you know.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Coming Together

Performing in Friday’s show was soooo much fun. Everything really came together that night mostly because the whole show was so character driven. We had just as much plot as we needed. The humor came naturally out of the characters interacting with one another. Everybody played a part and everyone in the show had their song.

Here are some disjointed highlights:
I say the strangest things when I’m choking – Zack
Did they have hospitals when you gave birth – me
No, Mom. He’s the best doctor here at Kaiser – Tara
I love you. But I need to go now – Andy
Everything Amy said.
Amber using finger puppets to be the sonogram images of Tara’s triplets.

And many more I’m sure I’m forgetting.

I also got to use Marcel all night. I love Marcel. He played Dr. Vagner. My own personal puppet highlight was Marcel taking his space-object stethoscope out of his ears. Marcel’s character was German. Amy’s was an overbearing Jewish mother. We had a great scene together. Oh! It was so much fun, and so organic and natural. The characters were just built to play off each other with Tara in the middle trying to hold it together.

Here’s a summary of Friday’s show:

And Babies Make Five
Jerry (Andy) and Ariel (Tara) find out their having triplets! Ariel’s terrified she’ll drive her children insane the way her mother drove her crazy. Jerry suddenly has to confront settling down. Except… Jerry gets called away for a 2 week cross country delivery with his best friend Verne (puppet Mel played by Zack) and Ariel’s mother (Amy) comes to visit while he’s gone. When Jerry runs into his ex-girlfriend Rita (puppet Evelyn played by Amber) at a strip club, he realizes he needs to be back home. After some near-death mother/daughter bonding, Arial and her Mom work out their own differences. In the end, everyone has a better idea what’s going on.

Friday, May 18, 2007

People Like to Make Puppets!

Opening weekend we had a matinee performance, and as an extra enticement to bring in audience, people who arrived early had the opportunity to make finger puppets. This proved so popular we’ve brought it back as a regular part of our Thursday night performances.

I find it amazing and amusing how much people enjoy making finger puppets! They get so into it. Gluing on eyes and crazy hair. And people have so much fun doing it. I get such a warm fuzzy from it, and it puts the audience in such a great mood for the show. We should do crafts before every show! They laugh, they get to know strangers making puppets next to them. I’d love to come up with a way to use them in the show, but people get very attached to their creations and I don’t know that they’d want to lend them to us for the show. We need to figure out a way for them to use them themselves from the audience.

Here’s what happened in last night’s show:

Everyone Dolores (Christian as puppet Shortcake) meets through Craigslist ends up being married. Then one day at a ballgame she meets a peanut salesman, Barry (Mandy as puppet Peanuts). He’s single, but he’s also a recovering smack addict who soon finds Dolores is his new addiction. Tempers flare and fists fly when Dolores’s married ex Kevin (Andy) wants back in her life. Who will Dolores choose? Well, let’s just say Dolores and Kevin both find happiness, just not with each other.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More Puppets!

Alas, I was not in any of last weekend's shows as I was out of town, but here are summaries of what did happen! (These are the same summaries you'll find in this week's email, if you're on our mailing list. Sorry I don't have anything new to post. Perhaps after reheasal tonigh.)

Thursday: On the Brink
Suzanne (Mandy-as-puppet-Petal) is a prison guard who is thinking of
quitting until handsome ace reporter Ron (Clay) gets assigned to do an
in-depth story about the prison and is granted access by his roommate John
(Zack-as-puppet-Larry). Meanwhile, Rocco the warden
(Christian-as-puppet-Hidalgo) is also interested in access ... to Suzanne.
When Suzanne yells "fire" at the Policeman's Ball in order to distract
Rocco, she winds up behind bars herself, and the only thing that saves her
from Rocco's indecent attentions is her former roommate Sandra (Tara), who
submits to Rocco's whims in Suzanne's behalf. Aided by iron-pumping,
rock-moving cellmate Stu (Christian-as-puppet-Tad), Suzanne and Ron expose
Rocco's machinations and save the day.

Friday: Here or There
Ethel (Tara-as-puppet-Dungeon) lives above a travel agency, but she's
never left St. Louis. Instead, she fills her life, and Mr. Wince
(Andy)'s travel agency, with all her homemade clothes. When
tempestuous fashion buyer Ramon Gutierrez (Andy) discovers Ethel's
talent, the jaded but uberfamous designer Mr. Richards (Tim)--inventor
of shoulder pads in the 80s!-- and his assistant
(Clay-as-puppet-Sidney) decide to produce her collections. After a
whirlwind tour of the world, Ethel and Mr. Richards make a connection.
When she decides that St. Louis is enough for her after all, Mr.
Richards decides to give up the world and go live with her. He even
tells her his deepest secret: his first name is Stan.

Saturday: Moving On
Sam (Christian) arrives at Middlebury Elementary, ready to start his
new job as a fifth-grade teacher. But he's got a dark side: he's in
the witness protection program, set to testify against mob boss
Luigi--his own father. Anxious to stay on the good side of the FBI
agents (Amy and Andy) protecting him, Sam's determined to keep a low
profile. But, his unorthodox teaching methods throw him unexpectedly
into the arms of his uptight colleague Angela (Mandy). And knowing
nothing about teaching, he manages to wrangle his sassy, chain-smoking
class of fifth-graders (Amy, Clay, Andy, Tim) into newfound
responsibility AND a win at the fifth-grade history fair. The
publicity brings the mob right down on him--but he chooses Angela and
his class, even over his own father.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


The audience's input keeps 'Puppet' lively
By Pat Craig

Article Launched:05/07/2007 03:03:47 AM PDT

Improvisational theater is tightrope walking for those who prefer both feet on the ground. Add puppets and music, and you get a rodeo of wit, and the clever construct of "The Great Puppet Musical," a new play each time it hits the stage, by San Francisco's Un-scripted Theater Company.
The company, which has been performing since late 2002, boasts a cast of excellent improvisers who were inspired to bring songs and puppets into their glib little family. While musical parody is nothing new to improv, and while puppets, after "Sesame Street" and "Avenue Q," are nothing new to theater, the blending adds an exciting new mix to the improv arsenal.

Not only does it offer an unusual visual element, but it also gives the performers additional comedic possibilities. This production, directed by Mandy Khoshnevisan, who also performs with the troupe, begins like most improv comedy -- by asking audience members for some basic concepts for the show.

On Thursday's opening night, the audience-selected theme was procrastination, and an opening number that dealt with the various sorts of putting-it-off behavior mentioned by the audience. It then quickly evolved into a musical that might be called, "How to Fail at Business by Trying Too Hard," the tale of a young man who puts off asking for a raise and ultimately is fired through the double-dealing efforts of an overly ambitious co-worker.

To say any more about the opening night story would be silly, since the tale told will be different each night, depending on the suggestions of the audience, who happens to be in the cast (the company uses maybe a half-dozen of its 11-member troupe in each show), and how the creative winds happen to be blowing on a particular night.

For audiences, this is the ultimate theatrical experiment. The show is being made up as it goes along, so there is a chance that some of it will fall flat on its face, which appeals to some improv fans (with similar tastes to those who go to car races to see crashes). There will be bits that don't work in just about every performance, but most shows tend to be combinations of diamonds and dirt. The reward, for both the performers and the audience, happens when everything comes together in an energy storm of hilarity and produces something close to comic alchemy.

Since the performers all appear, from their program bios, to have considerable experience with the craft, chances are the scales will tip toward the good each night. That was certainly the case in Thursday's opener, particularly with the songs, which not only played wonderfully, but added to the story.

Most impressive, though, were the pacing and construction of the improvised play into a fully realized story. Not only did the show provide plenty of chuckles, it actually formed a plot, made logical progression and came to a satisfying conclusion -- quite a feat for something made up on the spot. This is bare-bones theater, with much of the visual detail left to the imagination; it's just people, puppets and a few chairs to represent the improvised plot.

Pat Craig is the Times theater critic. Reach him at 925-945-4736 or


WHAT: The Un-scripted Theater Company presents "The Great Puppet Musical," an improvisation

WHEN: Thursdays-Saturdays, through June 2

WHERE: S.F. Playhouse Second Stage, 533 Sutter St., S.F.

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 45 minutes



Monday, May 7, 2007

Opening Weekend, Come & Gone

I have now performed in two shows. Man! Was it a lot of fun! Highlights included:

- Amber “killing” her puppet on Friday night by dropping it on the floor and leaving the stage.
- My puppet giving Amber’s puppet mouth to mouth.
- THE Santa Clara University
- Singing “There is no Santa Clara” when everyone expected me to sing “There is no Santa Clause”
- Amber “Don’t tell me you trusted him to hire the preacher!”
- Dave saying he’d raised my character from an egg.
- The slow motion home run trot.
- Reincorporating Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- Knowing the second Dave brought me on stage that we’d time jumped to his wedding without him having to tell me.
- Dave pimping my character to have a complaint at the police department.
- Amy asking Tim’s puppet to use puppets in their therapy session.
- Hidalgo

Mostly I played two characters. I played Tim, a puppet, on Friday night. He was a young kid trying to get the attention of his single dad. Saturday I played Johnny, Thor’s somewhat dim-witted right-hand man. They were both loads of fun.

Here’s a brief summary of the two shows:
Friday: Promises, Promises
Tim (puppet performed by Alan) needs a new coach for his t-ball team. Tim’s father Vince (Dave) needs more time in the day to be a single parent. Debbie (puppet performed by Amy) needs to take her mind off her ex, Steve (Zack). Together they find not all promises are made to be broken.

Saturday: Never Enough
When Thor (puppet performed by Tim) decides to capitalize on global warming by hording bottled water, he soon finds himself in jail robbed of everything he held dear. Soon he discovers all he really wanted was the respect of his girlfriend Debbie (puppet performed by Amber) and the love of his long lost brother Hidalgo (puppet performed by Clay)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Putting it Off!

Opening night went swimingly! We had a packed house largely in thanks to regulars Joey and Ryan. Things went off without a hitch, for the most part. We didn't have time to hang the legs before the show, so the players didn't have wings to hide in while offstage. So the audience had a full view of the performers, even when they weren't on. I actually liked it a lot. Shows we're not hiding anything. They can see the performers aren't planning backstage during the show and they can see us react and enjoy the show. I liked it, personally.

Her's a summary of the the show!

Putting it Off!

Tim (Christian) never seems to be able to find the right time to ask his boss (puppet performed by Zack) for a raise. After 18 years at the company, no one appreciates his work and he’s stuck assisting Andy (puppet “Glover”, performed by Mandy), a once brilliant V.P. who, after a tragic boating accident in the Caribbean, has been left mentally challenged.

Steve (puppet “Larry” performed by Dave) convinces the boss to downsize to safe money, and soon Tim is out of a job. Not only that, but Steve starts sleeping with Tim’s ex-girlfriend Becky (Tara) using Tim’s own spare bedroom as their love-nest. And somehow Andy follows Tim home and stays; though, he has a bad habit of forgetting to wear pants.

At the prodding of his 4-star chef room-mate Mark (Clay), Tim works his way back into the company through the mailroom and soon uncovers Steve’s devious secret plan to sell the company to Chinese investors. Steve gets fired, loses Becky, and after a fist-fight with Tim, realizes that….

Well, let’s just say both Tim and Steve learned some sort of life lesson. Becky moved on to another man. Mark kept cooking, and Andy scratched his head and wondered where his pants were.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Time to Open!

We had our “last” rehearsal for the Great Puppet Musical Tuesday night. We’ll continue to have rehearsals throughout the run, but this was the last one before opening.

We ran “skeletons” of two shows at rehearsal. What does that mean? Well, we did a bare bones version of the first act making sure to include the three most important songs: Opening song, the protagonist song, and the point-of-view Act I closing song. The opening song sets the tone for the show and focuses on the central theme that we’ve in some way gotten from the audience. The protagonist song establishes how the protagonist feels about their life and may delve into what they want deep down. The point-of-view Act I closing song involves several characters, the protagonist being one of them, each singing their point-of-view of the events to that point in the story.

Then we talked through the second act and did a closing number, which hopefully is a reprise of the opening number. I say hopefully because it’s really hard to reprise an improvised song. But we do what we can.

Now you may be thinking… That’s cheating. They know what songs their going to sing! Well, we know what types of song we’re going to sing, but we don’t know the music they’ll be sung to, the words we’ll sing, who will be singing them, or what characters we will be playing. So you see, it’s mostly up in the air.

And in case you're wondering, how we tend to structure musicals at Un-Scripted owe's a lot to the work of Kat Koppett. Many members of Un-Scripted worked with her when she lived in San Francisco and was a member of BATS Improv. (And yes, she is related to the late Hall of Fame sportswriter Leonard Koppett.)

We have yet to run the entire show from start to finish in a rehearsal. In fact, we rarely ever do that. The first time we’ll try to do this for a full 2 hours will be tonight in front of a paying audience. It’ll be an adventure!