March 29, 2001 Omaha Weekly
No Promises and No Holds Barred Fri-Sat., March 30-31 at the Shelterbelt
By Victor Hahn
The stage: a place where a person or group of people proceed to tell a story. Seems simple enough. What we're used to seeing on that stage is a particular story, night after night, maybe even a story we already know. It's the same story told at each performance throughout a run. But there does exist a kind of theatre whose purpose is to break that very rule of receptiveness.
Spot Theatre, a company dedicated to total improvisation, is performing at the Shelterbelt Theatre space at 33rd and California for its second and final weekend. Reviewing a show like this is like holding onto a well-greased snake-telling you what they did, will not in any way open a door to what you might see if you catch their act this weekend. It's completely different each time; the suggestions from the audience will be different. I suspect the players even purposely push themselves to be as different as possible from night to night. But giving you a glimpse of what they did on one particular night may give you an idea of what improvised theatre can be.
The group-within-the-group called Spot Theatre, is known as Tuttie's Midnight Review. Four of the six players, Matt J. Martin, Amber Ruffin, Andrea Wallace, and Kevin Bensely, improvised their way through the first act of a night called No Promises, by taking just one suggestion from the audience. This night, the suggestion was to name some sort of a promise. What was proposed was "I will always love you." The troupe took this concept and ran with it. But it was really just a starting point for some wildly diverse scenarios.
According to Martin, the director of Spot Theatre, one "pattern", if you will, of how they approach this style of improvisation, is to latch onto certain characters after a bit that seem to be working well, and use them more and more frequently throughout the rest of the act. Some nights will be more disjointed than others. Some night they may run with the same characters for the entire act. It just depends on how
well it's all meshing.
On this night, the audience witnessed among other things: the selling of very large sombreros that caused people to break their necks; Whitney Houston's drug habits; her attempted reform through the Catholic Church; and her supposed infatuation with J-Lo.
Ruffin was great as Whitney, while Wallace portrayed Whitneyís assistant Pepe, and Martin and Bensely were the priests trying to convert Miss Houston. Martin also played a chain-smoking, gruff-talking father that came back several times.
It's apparent the troupe works well together, and they know how to play off each other. You slowly see them gel the act into more cohesiveness, with some scenes lasting just a few seconds, to scenes that will fun for four or five minutes.
A group from Chicago called Bare played the second act of the night, showing just how refined and in-tune two people can be in this improvising genre. Fuzzy Gerdes and Shaun Himmerick were simply amazing to watch as they bounced off of a one-word suggestion from the audience-"bang." Bare has played coast to coast, and it's unfortunate they couldn't do more than just two nights last weekend in Omaha, because these are two highly gifted people that most theatergoers in town missed.
They are a cut above where Spot Theatre's at in terms of its refinement, but that's not a put down of Spot at all. Bare makes this look like fun, but you have to realize how much work is involved in this improvising craft. Spot Theatre can certainly rise to a higher level, if they get the exposure and practice to do this on a regular basis. Maybe they can be a third wheel in this theater space when the Shelterbelt and SNAP! Start sharing this stage in the near future.
The theater is currently going through its renovation, so if come to see the show No Promises, you can get a glimpse of where they're headed, in terms of seating and a lobby. Call 689-7225 for information. Tickets are $10 and the show starts at 8:00 PM this Friday and Saturday.