Alive Lager Mentality.

Theatre Sports Interview:

The interviewees:

Megan Choritz (MC)
Carolyn Lewis
Adrian Hughes
Ashley Brownlee
David Thomas

Sugar: How does Theatre Sports fit into South Africa's "morality revolution"? Now that we've won the right of freedom of expression, aren't you as improvisational actors sometimes tempted to move towards unbridled filth?
Megan: We try very hard to keep our show clean. If it becomes dirty it can be incredibly tacky and very lavatorial. Often we're are at odds with the audience who are demanding filth and prostitution and different types of porn. We play a game called 'Story Story Die' where the actor tells a story and when they make a mistake the audience shouts "DIE!" and has to give the actors an object to die with. One of the all-time greatest deaths was when Carolyn was given a tampon to die with.

Carolyn: A tampon string!
Megan: So she said, "Excuse me, I just have to go to the toilet," and she went offstage and came back on stage and tripped over the tampon string and died. There is also a game called 'Word at a Time Interview' where the audience chooses a famous person to be interviewed, except the person is played by three actors who answer the questions a word at a time. Once the audience insisted on Helen Keller as the famous person. Adrian was the interviewer and did a sign language introduction with his hands and asked her a question and she didn't say a word. This went on for two minutes with Adrian having to interpret her silence and carry on with the interview. The three actors playing Helen Keller just sat there and did nothing.
Carolyn: That can never be done again. Even if an audience suggests Helen Keller, then we would have to say no.

Sugar: Do you have embarrassing moments? All: (Laughing) Oh yes!
Megan: On Monday night we had a problematic moment. There was a scene where none of us knew what the story was, who the characters were and why people were on stage. It was a difficult game because how it works is the audience gives you an original title of a movie and a style and then both teams collaborate and you perform three excerpts as a trailer from this movie. It was a thriller called 'That Darn Static'. We'd performed three lovely trailers and then immediately after that we had to perform the whole movie, including the trailers, and none of us had a clue what to do.
Ashley: You're in the moment and you're committed to the moment and you're committed to the fact that you don't know what is going on, but you're still committed and that is where the entertainment comes in for the audience.
Carolyn: I wish we could film every single game we play because there have been games that have been absolute gems. We should make a movie about this just for pure entertainment.
David: And just for the fact that so often there are moments so magical that you could be paying 50 pounds on the West End to see them.

Sugar: Have you put it on video or has it been on TV?
Megan: Yes, the TV story is quite a complicated one. Personally I am confused about the level of the success it is going to have when it's shown, hopefully in September, because it's really your live audiences benefiting from it. It works with 'Whose Line Is It Anyway', which is the British TV version of Theatre Sports involving stand-up comics. I think with us we rely very closely on the interaction of a live audience. It will be interesting to see… I have a suspicion people sitting in their homes might find it a little voyeuristic.

Sugar: Not just that but they might be convinced you rehearsed it and that would destroy the credibility.
Megan: That's the other thing - it's going to be edited.
Carolyn: I mean, we have audience members who just cannot believe that we just pulled something out of our heads.
Megan: When they give us the suggestions, the audience is also such an integral part of it. We did this beautiful show in Knysna last year and one of the games we played is called 'A Day in the Life', in which we ask the audience: "Is there anyone who had a particularly interesting day today?" There was a woman who stood up and said, "Yes, today I washed my pig." So we performed the scene of that day, and we also did it in all different styles. So it started off normal, she woke up on her farm and she gave her pig a bath, and then we changed the style to an 'ER' kind of hospital drama and the next thing you know the pig is being operated on. It was just completely outrageous. Our audience is a very vital part of it. I remember that at that show I had blue hair at the time.

Sugar: Do you change your hair colour for each show?
Megan: No. What happened was that as the MC I was asking the audience for suggestions and titles for an opera and this three-year-old child was completely fascinated by my hair. So I asked the audience if there was anyone with a title for the opera and there comes this voice of the three-year-old saying, "Mummy, that's not her real hair!" which of course became the title of the opera. The audience was finished!

Sugar: Could you give a brief history of Theatre Sports?
Megan: It was developed 15 years ago by Keith Johnson of Loose Moose in Canada, who was teaching actors how to improvise so that they could be less inhibited. People used to watch the classes because they were so funny, so he came up with the concept of Theatre Sports, which is now known worldwide. For example, in Australia it is televised and performed in enormous stadiums. It's also played in London and all over America and there are Theatre Sports teams in a lot of strange places all over the world. Our Cape Town group is three and a half years old but we are all linked to the global tradition of the Theatre Sports games.

Sugar: How are you linked? Just by the fact that you are doing the same kind of thing?
Megan: No, there's also a copyright thing. We are linked to the Market Theatre laboratory, which is linked to Loose Moose.

Sugar: Have any of you been involved in Theatre Sports outside South Africa?
Carolyn: I was recently in Amsterdam doing something completely different and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. They were having an international Theatre Sports workshop and they had teams from Denmark, the States, Australia and Britain.

Sugar: How does the South African standard compare?
Carolyn: Very well, if I may say so. I thought, let me sit and watch what they are doing -- and I believe we are definitely up there with them.
Ashley: Theatre Sports is played differently all over the world. Here the Johannesburg and Cape Town teams have very different styles. The Jo'burg team uses a lot of word play whereas the Cape Town team is a far more physical team -- we use a lot more actions than words.
Carolyn: The American team was very musical. They had a guy who had his own guitar and most of the games they played were music-based. Very good.

Sugar: I believe Julia from the Honeymoon Suites is your gothic keyboard player in the background?
Megan: Yes, she's our musical improviser.
Ashley: It's taken a long time for us to find one.

Sugar: That must also be a very important part of Theatre Sports -- playing the music, coming up with the right sounds. You can't rehearse that.
Megan: Absolutely. She has to be very fast. She might decide in one game to provide sound effects and then she's got birds and cars…
Carolyn: And someone might just say something like ,"I am just going to run my fingers over my piano and play some Tchaikovsky," and she'll have to start playing Tchaikovsky.
David: Or an opera. One of the games is called 'Opera' and a two-minute scene has to be played out operatically so the actors have to sing an opera and she has to accompany that opera and that style of opera. It's a very difficult thing to do.
Carolyn: She has to pick up on the tune that we're singing or we have to pick up on the tune she's playing.
Megan: She is also integral in creating the mood.

Sugar: If I come to Theatre Sports, what am I going to see?
Megan: The format is simple. There are two teams of actors, normally teams of three, plus an MC and a musical improviser.

Sugar: How many actors?
Megan: We've a core group of about 15 and people move in and out of the group depending on their availability, so it's not just us five here today. What happens is that the MC talks to the audience and acts as a facilitator and gets suggestions from the audience. The teams of actors will take turns in drawing a game out of the hat.

Sugar: How many games are there?
Megan: Over 250, of which we can play about 100. We normally select about 40 games before we go on stage. We literally don't have any idea what games we are going to play. The game gets chosen and the MC explains the game to the audience and gets a few suggestions from the audience. Like, where does this scene take place? Someone might call out: "It's a hijacking that takes place on Mount Kilimanjaro." Or a fabulous suggestion once was an igloo on the N2. The audience gets asked for all sorts of things -- theatrical styles, movie styles, general characters to include in the scene -- and then the teams play out the games. At the end of the game we've got three audience members who judge in terms of three different categories. We've got technique, which is how well the actors follow the rules of the game. We've got story line -- that is, did the two-minute scene or game have a good story? And thirdly, entertainment.

Sugar: So the judges are selected on the evening -- you just pick three members of the audience at random?
Megan: It's gotten easier. In the beginning we had to coerce them. Because South Africans are very nervous about the idea of participating, we had to spend a lot of time trying to convince people that they are not going to be forced on stage; no one is going to drag them up. All they do is provide the suggestions and we are going to be the people who make fools of ourselves. Then we play about three or four rounds and we possibly do a long game at the end and a warm-up game at the beginning and that's the structure of the evening. What is exciting for us is that our audiences are recurring because no show will ever be the same.

Sugar: So they are going to see a different show every single time?
Carolyn: That's why they come back.
David: It's not like going to the theatre. It's essentially a sport. People become passionate about competitive games and that is what it is about because every single rugby game that you see is different. In the same way, every single Theatre Sports show is completely different.

This way to ACT II of this enthralling interview >

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