June 17, 2010

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Theater as sport
Watch out for the flying socks
Adam Coughlin acoughlin@hippopress.com

What would the world’s worst labor coach sound like? Well, according to competitors of theater sports, which is very much like drunken Mad Libs, he’d crouch into a catcher’s position and say something like, “Swing, batter, batter!”

Theater sports, according to Larry Pizza, who started Granite State Theatre Sports, is a competition in which two teams of four or five contestants compete to improvise comedy based on audience suggestions. For example, prior to the show, Pizza, with his wife and co-founder, Kim Cassetta, hand out slips of paper for the audience members to write down things like: the title of a book never written (10 Ways to Enjoy the Victoria’s Secret Catalog Without Getting Arrested) or a line of dialogue (“Well, Steve, I thought she was a woman.”).

The teams must then incorporate these suggestions into their acts. But with a risk: the audience is armed with tightly balled socks and can hurl them if they disapprove. After each segment the audience votes and one team gets a point. The team with the most points at the end wins.

Pizza, who has done improv for 20 years, wanted to get back into it. So he and Cassetta held auditions about a year ago. They were shocked by what they found.

“The talent is something to see,” Pizza said. “There are young performers and veterans who all have theater and improv backgrounds.”

The group practiced for a while before heading out into the interactive world. They’ve performed several times at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry. Pizza picked up the theater sports format while attending an international improv festival in Montreal a decade before.

“Theater sports allows the audience as much or as little participation as they want,” Pizza said. “It makes the event a lot of fun.”

It is fun for the performers as well, according to Sheryl Norton, who is no stranger to the stage, having previously been nominated for a best supporting actress award by the NH Theatre Awards.

“Honestly, it feels very comfortable,” Norton said. “The audience knows you’re making it up as you go along. It is nice to see their reaction.”

Norton said because the suggestions are spontaneous, the competitors can’t really rehearse. But they do go through different techniques and hold practice sessions. She also said she loved the theater sports aspect because it keeps things interesting.

“Competing in teams makes it a lot more fun,” Norton said. “We help each other out because we really are one big group. But we do still want to win.”

Granite State Theatre Sports will perform at Boynton’s Taproom in Manchester’s Millyard on Friday, June 18, and again on Friday, Aug. 20. Unlike the Derry Opera House, this venue serves alcohol. Was Norton worried about getting a sock hurled off her noggin?

“Nah,” Norton said. “Actually, the suggestions are usually more interesting, but there is a line we can’t cross. So we just try to be discreet.”

Jay McCormack of Keene, who watched the first Granite State Theatre Sports performance at Boynton’s last month, made no attempts at being discreet.

“There must be some poor soul walking around barefoot because I threw so many socks tonight,” McCormack said. “But it is just good clean fun.”


Larry Pizza (hat) gets the crowd involved at Boynton’s Taproom. Adam Coughlin photo.

Granite State Theatre Sports
When: Friday, June 18, at 8 p.m. and Friday, Aug. 20, at 10 p.m.
Where: Boynton’s Taproom, 155 Dow St. (3rd floor), Manchester, 623-7778, www.boyntonstaproom.com.
Cost: $10

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