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Posts Tagged ‘Marin Art and Garden Center’

Long Form Improv: creating a dialog between communities through improvisation

In Behind the Scenes on June 9, 2009 at 3:42 pm

by Phil Gravitt

Camels, photo by Petershort

Camels, photo by Petershort

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – If you only think of humor when you think of improv, you are in for a new experience with the long form improv performance of Arabian Nights, July 10 and 11, 2009 at the Magic Theater, sponsored by Zawaya, an Arab arts organization serving the San Francisco Bay Area.

“While long form improv is presented like a play,” explains Co-producer and director Basel Al-Naffouri, “for Arabian Nights, we will create new stories within the same genre, made up on the spot.  We may turn to the audience to ask for a story title, or something to inspire us.  Sometimes reactions are explored, especially if the audience is enjoying the moment.”

Expanding on audience involvement, Co-producer Mikaela Bennett adds, “There is finite material within Arabian Nights, and the audience gets to participate in new stories within the language of that world.”

Another difference between long form improv and other theater, Al-Naffouri points out,   “There is nothing on the stage.  Improvisers craft a whole world the audience can see with their minds eye, creating a magical experience.”

There is also humor in long form improv.  “We don’t play it for the laughs; we play it for the moment.  The laughs come from being improvised,” says Al-Naffouri.   “There are sweet moments, too, unique because they are improvised.”

To prepare, the ensemble studies the genre deeply to become familiar with all aspects, characters and characteristics, locations of the stories, time periods, and how the stories are told.  “Rehearsal mostly is creating stories that fit within the genre,” explains Al-Naffouri.  The actual performance is the second part of long form improv.   “For the live performance, we have a balance of everything, and take that and run with it, and see what types of stories emerge.”

“There are no stock characters or plots,” Bennett adds.   “You put together any combination to create meaning.   We vary our characters and make sure they don’t repeat.  We access what makes a character different or special.”

This freedom from specific roles makes it exciting for the ensemble as well as the audience.  “We are not limited by our own bodies and physiques,” Al-Naffouri says.  “Each player can take on different body sizes, rhythms, movements, types of speech, the whole human experience.  Each player can be smarter, dumber, bigger, or smaller than they are, with different skin color, origins, nationalities.”

Al-Naffouri is hoping they the Arab community will “come and see something that is part of their culture, and also see improv, where they will feel they are part of the show.”

Bennett and Al-Naffouri would also like to attract a non improv audience, as well as members of the improv community who have not seen arts and culture presented through improv.    The hoped for result would be a dialog between these three communities that would normally not have contact with each other.  “The show is not just about Aladdin,” explains Al-Naffouri.   “It is about getting experience with Arab heritage, to get excited about what is familiar and unfamiliar.”

“We would like to enable improvisers to learn about Arab culture by integrating some of the story lines in their improv,” adds Bennett, resulting in “more diverse stories and different personalities within the improv community.”

The ensemble of players has many years experience, including long form improv in San Francisco.  Classical and Arabic musicians are also taking part, with music made up on the spot, along with improvised singing.   “The musicians must be able to play anything and support the story no matter where it goes,” says Bennett.

Improv shows frequently don’t schedule long runs because improv groups don’t want to do a lot of the same story line.  In keeping with that tradition, this  performance of Arabian Nights will have a short two-day run of July 10 and 11, 2009.  The show is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes.    “The story ends when it ends, they don’t try to stretch it,” Al-Naffouri says.

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:


The Ross Valley Players’ Barn Theatre

In Places and Spaces on December 12, 2008 at 2:57 am

by Kim Taylor

Historical photo of RVP Barn Theater by Clyde H. Sunderland

Historical photo of RVP Barn Theater by Clyde H. Sunderland

MARIN COUNTY, CA – This may be hard to believe, but there are still theater troupes out there that put their shows on in “the barn.”

Take the Ross Valley Players, the oldest continuously operating community theater organization west of the Rockies, which dates back to 1930 when members of the little hamlet of Ross in Marin County established the theater group as an escape from the realities of the Depression.

The company’s first performances were given at the community room of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Other RVP venues in the 1930s included San Rafael High School and Woodland Theatre, an outdoor theater located in Kent Woodlands. Then in the early 1940s, The Ross Valley Players settled in an old barn where actors shared rehearsal space with cattle and a barn door placed across some stalls formed the stage.

Set on a hill in the beautiful Marin Art & Garden Center complex, the Barn Theatre is a two story wood structure which evolved into a 150-seat theater and the home base of the Ross Valley Players. The lobby features a display of one of the original barn doors, a historical reminder of the RVP’s humble, but earnest beginnings.

The Barn was built in the 1860s as part of the Kittle farm. During the late 1930s the barn served several functions – as shelter for livestock; a garage for the Kittle family; and storage space for Ross Valley Players costumes and props.

It was in 1940 that the barn began its transformation into a theater space with a first play reading of “Life with Father.”

It continued functioning as a working barn until 1945, when Kittle Estate became the Marin Art and Garden Center. Between 1948 and 1954, major interior renovations were made at the barn including the installation of a permanent stage in 1950s. By the 1970s, the building had stage lights, bathrooms and a small kitchen for concessions.

Over the years the Ross Valley Players has successfully completed other significant improvement projects to the Barn Theatre. Future projects include a new heating system; a complete upgrade of restroom facilities; and a reorganization of costume and storage systems that will serve the Ross Valley Players and become a resource for other community organizations.

During its 79-year history the Ross Valley Players has served as a theatrical organization where amateurs can spread their wings and practice their skills. The non-profit theatrical company presents six to eight productions each season.

In 2007, members of the S.F. Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle presented a special award to The Ross Valley Players, recognizing the theater company as one of the Bay Area’s oldest theater companies surviving without subsidies, presenting productions featuring community talent and for its “RAW” series featuring readings of new plays by local writers.

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.