Based out of San Francisco, Revolving Madness does Long Form improvisation. Without a suggestion, they create unexpected and edgy theater.
(From Website) Improvisation isn’t just about being funny at the drop of a hat,” says Andreas Riter, a member of the San Francisco-based performance troupe Revolving Madness.
Anyone who has ever seen the group perform would agree that Revolving Madness has honed the craft of spontaneous performance beyond what might be expected at the usual “improv” shows. Unlike most groups, Revolving Madness takes no suggestions from the audience, plays no games and has no agreed-upon structure or story when the performance begins. One performer begins a scene, others slowly join, creating characters, locations, relationships and transitions, and after about 40 minutes the act is over.
Short-form improv is listening to seven or eight great songs in a row on your Ipod: Revolving Madness is a jazz set or a Phish concert, a colorful, collaborative leap into the unknown where the group’s improvisation is an act of pure, creative freedom - and not just a way to make the audience laugh.
But their fans will also assure you that laughter is no stranger at a Revolving Madness performance, as the six-member troupe loves feeding off the energy of the audience as each new show reveals the completely unique and ephemeral world that Revolving Madness plays with, and in, and around.
“We tend to stay away from satire and broad humor, although that’s not a strict rule,” says performer Lauren Pizzi.
“We find our audiences really respond to the character work and the relationships; even if things get a little strange, our scenes always tend to be focused around realistic emotions and the quirky drama of everyday life.”
The effectiveness of a show, then, isn’t only measured in terms of how often the audience laughed, or whether or not a pre-arranged structure was executed, but also in terms of how effectively the group creates believably eccentric characters or familiar-but-awkward relationships. The “story” in any given show can sometimes seem absurd – from a world thumb-wrestling championship to a grown man’s talking doll collection – but in the six skillful imaginations of Revolving Madness, the stories evolve with surprising subtlety and nuance.
Curiously, the group’s formative experience was not in front of an audience, but television cameras. As seniors in the B.F.A. Acting program at the University of California Santa Barbara, the group was initially formed as part of a graduate student thesis project. Jason Davids Scott, who had learned the art of long-form improvisation from Chicago scene veterans like Jim Dennen and John Lehr from the seminal long-form group ED, used the university’s small television studio to document nine hours of long-form performance. The group – then named Whole Cloth and featuring fellow classmates Stephanie O’Neill, Jed Reynolds, Michael Phillis and Liz Rawls – didn’t perform in front of an audience until after three months of training, and spent their efforts watching their taped performances, honing their craft, and attempting to push the boundaries of improvisation by rejecting any predetermined structure.
“Jason told us how most groups eventually found they needed some kind of agreed-upon story or game to be successful,” explains performer Christy Daly. “But any time he suggested something, we tended to find it only restricted us. We might agree on it beforehand, but five minutes into the performance we’d be off on our own.”
In the winter of 2004, the group began performing at I.V. LIVE, a new, University-sponsored weekly performance series held in the recently-refurbished Embarcadero Hall – a building that was the site of the infamous Bank of America riots in 1970, and had since been employed as a club where musical artists such as Tori Amos, Toad the Wet Sprocket, No Doubt and Sublime had performed on their way to stardom. After closing the first, sold-out show with a performance that earned them a standing ovation, the group realized that their unique form of improvisation was entertaining – and addictive.
The group performed nearly every week for the rest of the school year, while completing their degree and performing in other University productions, and their ability to draw dozens of loyal fans each week contributed to the success of I.V. LIVE. The group also began performing in other venues – at the Primavera Art and Music Festival hosted by the UCSB Music Department, in various site-specific performances at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the UCSB New Works Festival and at the IO West Improv Festival in Los Angeles.
Revolving Madness, a talented bunch of Ruffians- John Cleese (former professor and mentor).
Before graduation, the group met and decided that performing together was something that they wanted to continue as professional actors. With five of the six members having roots in the Bay Area, San Francisco, a city with a tradition of supporting improvisational and alternative forms of theater, seemed a logical destination. While each of the members holds down “regular” jobs, they rehearse together several times a week, and have produced a number of shows at venues around the city and in Marin County.
“We’ve been producing and directing ourselves for two years, but we are really just getting started,” says Andreas Riter. In addition to their improvised sets, the group has also featured sets of scripted pieces that they developed during their time at UCSB, studying with a prestigious faculty that included legendary movement teacher James Donlon and award-winning playwright Naomi Iizuka. They also continue to pursue their individual careers as actors, whether in local productions and commercials, as teachers and instructors working with such local companies as Boxcar Theatre, Ragged Wing Ensemble and Drama Mammas.
Having worked together for nearly four years in classes and for almost two years as an improvisational group, Revolving Madness has developed a sense of intimacy and trust that many troupes often find difficult to accomplish.
“We’ve all seen each other grow as actors, we’ve been part of that growth process for each other,” explains Christy Daly. “It’s easy to talk about how important trust is in theatre, but we’ve been fortunate enough to have that trust from the beginning. We know how to inspire each other, we know how to give each other feedback, we know when to give someone space. One of the best aspects of what we do is that we get to work with our friends, people we really care about, and watch each other be brilliant.”
While balancing their own professional and work careers and still maintaining their identity as a group will undoubtedly be an ongoing challenge for this savvy spontaneous sextet, their commitment to exploring the possibilities of truly improvisational performance and the farthest limits of their own skills as performers keeps them going.
“We play the best game in the world,” says Michael Michalske. “And we can’t imagine not ever playing it together.”
- Lauren Pizzi
- Michael Michalske
- Andreas Riter
- Christy Daly