Going Bats And Not Minding At All

Marina Times: Program Notes
By Evalyn Baron
November 2011

BATS Improv cast members (from left): Tim Orr, Paul Killam, Regina Saisi, Diane Rachel, Rafe Chase, and Barbara Scott (Photo: courtesy BATS Improv)

Is life a cabaret for you, old chum? Do you have a three-piece band in the corner of the living room that bursts into song whenever the going gets tough? I bet that your life, like everyone’s, is more akin to improvisational theater with you on stage, waiting for circumstances to influence how your story will go. Sometimes there’s laughter, sometimes the opposite, but no matter because somehow we celebrate it all.

I certainly celebrated the other evening while watching Improvised Hitchcock at BATS Improv Theatre. It was my first time seeing this company work, and I liked it so much my husband and I went another night to see their Super Scene evening. Now we are genuine fans. Why? Because improvisational theater, with its elements of risk and willingness to be thoroughly in the moment, reminds us why live theater is important. When it’s done well, the “live” part is its most important feature.

The BATS improvisers are skillful at letting truthful human behavior emerge from their invented stories. Therefore, they are often hysterically funny. They also allow the stories to unfold with depth and style, not an easy thing to do. Since they’ve been working in this genre a while, you know you’re in the presence of actors you can trust, and this makes it easy to join in their special brand of fun – and believe me, it’s fun.

Bay Area Theatre Sports (BATS) emerged from the creativity of British improviser Keith Johnson, whose work in the 1950s supported his notion that theater should have all the elements of an exciting sports match. He created rehearsal methods supporting the idea that live performance began when humans acted out stories around the campfire, long before writing was ever invented. So Johnson and his actors began to improvise.

BATS came from that tradition, forming its first company here in 1987. Since then, it’s gone on to invent new theatrical forms, host international festivals, and establish a respected school where classes are offered to all. In 1997, BATS came to its permanent home in the Bayfront Theater at Fort Mason Center with many and varied programs, serving not only devoted audiences but demonstrating the uses of creative improvisation in schools, hospitals and corporations around the Bay Area. If you don’t already, you should know about BATS.

Preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary season, Kasey Klemm, BATS’ current artistic director, spared me a few minutes.

EB: Why is the unique work BATS produces good for S.F. and for the Marina neighborhood in particular?

KK: We’re an ambitious, adventurous theater company; I think the same is true about San Francisco as a city and the Marina district in particular. There are a lot of people in the Marina who are pursuing exciting goals and taking risks in their lives, and at BATS Improv, we’re taking risks every night, breaking rules in pursuit of compelling stories and a kind of theater that brings you to the edge of your seat. The result is richer and more hilarious than anything that could have been written in advance. BATS creates a special bond with audiences because each show is entirely new, invented on the spot. People can come back to every show we do and have a different experience each time.

EB: People love your classes too.

KK: Because the fundamental concepts of improv are about saying yes, being open, and trusting your partner. We establish each workshop as safe, open and playful, allowing people to let down defenses. We celebrate risk. And we laugh a lot. It’s a liberating experience.

EB: What’s coming up next at BATS?

KK: We’ve got exciting things happening. On November Friday nights, there’s our signature Theatresports, where teams challenge each other to a mix of scenes, songs and games. Theatreports has a lot of variety and features audience interaction. On Saturdays, we do Family Drama, a single story that plays out over the evening as a three-act play, and a lot of hilarity ensues! Saturdays in December, A Very Merry Murder Mystery returns by popular demand. And finally, on Dec. 31, we have our annual New Year’s Eve Special. Please come join the fun!

I know I will. And dear readers, if you want a unique, fun and family-friendly theater experience, BATS is a sure thing. Take advantage of this unique performing arts company in our very own Marina neighborhood and buy a ticket to BATS. You’ll be happy you did.

Bring Kleenex, by the way, because it’s a moist experience: you’ll laugh ‘till the tears are rolling!

BATS Improv Theatre:
Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason Center, Building B; Friday–Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets $17 advance, $20 at the door. 415-474-8935, www.improv.org