Fast-paced black and white video clips of an old-fashioned printing press and a busy newsroom set the stage for “ImMEDIAte Theatre,” an entirely improvised comedy show produced by Pasadena Playhouse’s Furious Theatre Company, as five actors quickly shuffled through newspapers and recreated the most and least eminent stories of the week.
From print to broadcast journalism and occasional spectator news that bordered on the ridiculously mundane – all overtly emphasizing the widespread practice of media dramatization – nothing was off limits and the audience never stopped laughing.
Predominantly soft news, ranging from the rising production cost of the penny, the percentage of people piqued with the results of the Pulitzer Prize awards and the failure of several George Washington High School students to pass the statewide Exit exam to a Hollywood divorce, became the impromptu subject matter of the show, all of which stemmed from local papers such as The Daily Bulletin, Pasadena Star News and Los Angeles Times.
Audience members were personally greeted at the door of the Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theatre on April 22 by the brilliantly spontaneous actors and were asked to complete a short survey, consisting of three things each had done at some point during the week. A key element in the production of the late night show, which debuted on April 15, was unabashed surprise; audience interaction was encouraged, adding to the overall cleverness and energy of each short comedic sketch.
“We really wanted the audience to get the feeling that they were getting a new experience each time,” Nick Cernoch, a Furious Theatre actor and one of the show’s original developers, said.
Nine productions of “ImMEDIAte Theatre” have been performed thus far and though each one was based on the news of the week and depended on improvisation, Cernoch said practice was still necessary to keep the actors fresh.
“It’s like basketball; you’re not going to see the same game every time, but the players still have to know how to dribble,” Cernoch said. “We rely on each other to make scenes progress.”
The worth of pennies promptly became the common thread of the production, providing fuel for several scenes throughout the night. In one such scene, cast member Doug Newell portrayed a meticulous divorce lawyer prepared with a pretend list of “unsavory” crimes his client, played by Katie Davies, allegedly committed against her husband.
“This should cover your legal fees, plus a bit more,” Newell said when Davies handed him a fistful of imaginary pennies as payment.
Another story headline that became a major part of the production was the failure of 20 percent of seniors at George Washington High School to survive the Exit exam, which Cernoch repeatedly said was an extremely basic test of general skills. He stood alone onstage, as he ranted about the growing stupidity of teenagers in monologue fashion.
“I’m one of the 80 percent who would’ve passed,” Cernoch said. “It’s like putting up a gate outside a house of stupid people, and you can’t let them out until they have learned to work the simple, slide and pull latch.”
Cernoch posed as a correspondent on site at the school in another scene, and at one point cast member Vonessa Martin, playing an anchorwoman, wondered aloud if the students, apparently growing more dim-witted by the minute, knew that the gate they were charging was open.
“Maybe they’d know if we posted it on MySpace,” Martin said, to which Cernoch replied, “I tried sending an instant message, but Tom’s telling me that the instant message function just isn’t working right now.”
A talk radio segment, in which actresses Davies and Martin interviewed fellow cast member Eric Pargac, who posed as a representative of Exxon Mobile and discussed the mounting cost of gasoline, was yet another audience favorite. As a public relations agent, he attempted to put a positive spin on the situation and suggested that a liter of soda was more expensive than a gallon of gas.
“Why don’t we just drink gasoline, then?” Davies said, to which Pargac replied, “You have always been able to drink gasoline, but it has always been deadly,” also suggesting that getting drunk off of gasoline would be less expensive than buying a drink in Hollywood.
Audience members also favored short skits that focused on their own survey responses. The actors made everyday things, such as someone working at the overpriced Abercrombie and Fitch or taking a trip to Huntington Beach, interesting by focusing on the duties of a sales clerk and a less than amorous couple playing Frisbee.
Robert Leventer, a Los Angeles resident who tagged along to the show with his son Ben, said the production took an innovative approach on improvisation.
“It’s hard to do political improv; most shows nowadays stress sex and dope use, and this one really tries to be much more creative,” Robert Leventer said.
The production ended with each reporter supposedly on scene at different locations. They talked in unison, representative of a media onslaught intent on reporting the news of the day, which, no matter how stale or trivial, would eventually become a much bigger issue.
Productions of “ImMEDIAte Theatre” will run at 10 p.m. every Saturday until May 20. Visit www.furioustheatre.org/latenight for more information.
Kady Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org