Saturday, January 15, 2011

Combat Theater rocks in Milwaukee!

Theater is the art involving live performers who depict a narrative in some performance setting, usually a stage. There are, of course, many kinds of theater experience: repertory theater, dinner theater, drama, comedy, musical, Shakespearian, summer stock, on-Broadway, off-Broadway, and experimental theater, just to pick a few at random. Then there’s Combat Theater.

Never heard of it? Combat Theater was born in 2000 right here in Milwaukee and it has been happening twice a year since then. But, as James Fletcher, the producer, told his audience at last night’s performance, it is “word of mouth theater.” Its loyal fans are its only advertising.

Combat Theater contains the essential ingredients of other kinds of theater: script writers, directors, actors, a stage, rehearsal time, performances, etc. What distinguishes this from other theater experiences is one not-so-simple factor: not one of the eight plays that are performed in an evening existed – even as a concept – 24 hours beforehand. Here’s the deal: 24 hours before the actors have to perform in front of a live audience the writers gather to draw two slips of paper from a hat. One slip provides a subject; the second provides a place. The writers then write feverishly all night in order to create a play. In the morning the cast and director receive the script and begin rehearsals. At 8 pm the fun begins.

I went last night. I had been once before a couple years ago and so knew the basic setup, but for newbies Fletcher comes out to introduce the concept before the show. An evening’s show is comprised of eight plays. We were treated to the likes of “a secret admirer at the Salem witchcraft trials,” “Rumplestiltskin at Harvard,” “Casanova on a bob sled,” “St. Patrick on the Orient Express,” and, my personal favorite, “M. Night Shyamalan in a marijuana field.” Most of the plays were very funny. Of the eight, one was written and directed as a more serious drama, but comedy reigns. The energy is infectious. The packed house of mostly Combat Theater veterans was thrilled.

But here’s the kicker: when they were finished after eight frantic performances, everyone – actors, directors, writers – all came up on stage, not simply to receive their duly deserved ovation, but to pick new slips from the hat. They are doing it all again today and will perform eight brand new plays this evening. Be there!

Yes, they know the Packers are playing tonight. Fletcher constructively acknowledged this apparent death-to-combat theater coincidence of timing with the assertion “Combat Theater cannot be DVR-ed!” The audience responded to the thinly veiled inside joke with knowing laughter.

Combat Theater takes place at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center,
325 W. Walnut St., Milwaukee
Tonight’s performance is at 8 pm.
(It’s a good deal at $16 a seat, too.)

Plan ahead: the combat returns June 3rd and 4th, 2011.

For more information, go to Bunny Gumbo. Oh, and spread the word!

No comments:

Post a Comment