Tag Archives: BATS Improv

My Year End Wrap Up 2011

Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011.  I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months.  It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions.   I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March.  I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks.   These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.

Best Books:  Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens.  I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.  Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading.  My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school.  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category.  The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward.  The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.

Best Television:  The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny.  The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.)  NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon.  In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.  I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman.  Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.

Best Twitter:  Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter.  He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page.  I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him.  Sorry, Gube.  West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches.  Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out!  Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.

Best Movies:  I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen.  I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.   I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category!  At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork.  I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.

Best DVDs:  I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked.  I really need to get over this habit!  While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender.  I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½.  I did love The King’s Speech.  I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.

Best StreamingDa Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television.  The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming.  I tried a month of streaming only.  It was a disaster.  Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload.  Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only.  Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust.  One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.

Best TheatreLes Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre.  I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.

Best Music:  I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford.   Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical).  Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again.  The worst music this year?  Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Gack.

Best Music Video:  It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it.  I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.

Best Entertainment News:  Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself.  It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball.  If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now.  2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.

Entertainer of The Year:  Last year was easy.  This year, it’s difficult to choose.  Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November.  I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser.  He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos.  Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume.  Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey.  Congratulations, guys.  There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks.  I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!

Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey

Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary

Next: What I’m excited about in 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!

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BATS Improv

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an improv show called Spontaneous Broadway, performed by the BATS Improv Main Stage Company.  I searched all over their website to find out what “BATS” means.  It was kind of buried, but it’s Bay Area Theatresports.  This improv troupe is based at Fort Mason, and they perform in the intimate Bayfront Theater.

BATS Improv at Fort Mason

BATS Improv at Fort Mason

When we arrived at the theatre, we were given golf pencils and slips of paper to write down our titles of “songs that have never been written.”  These were collected and placed in a bowl.  Six actors came onstage, three men and three women, with actor Ben Johnson playing host as the other five (Diane Rachel, Barbara Scott, Corey Rosen, Jenny Rosen, and John Remak) grabbed a handful of slips from the bowl.  They sorted through the titles and selected the ones they wanted to use to improvise a song.  The host explained that the audience members were theatre investors being presented with songs from musicals in development.  Then each actor was called up to sing their song and tell us the title of the musical it was from (also invented).  Sometimes the actors performed a solo, but they were also able to recruit as many other performers as they needed.  Even the host got to participate.  A drummer and a keyboard player accompanied the actors.  They went around twice, so most of the actors got to create two songs.  At the end of the first half, the audience members were asked to choose which song they wanted to see developed into a 40-minute improvised musical after the intermission.

I’m still not quite sure how they did it.  As I’ve said many times before, I’m not in the least bit musical, so I have no insight into how you make up a song on the spot.  The musicians may have had a preset list of tunes, known by the actors, because I don’t know how else they could have accompanied the songs.  The songs rhymed, and they were mostly very clever and funny.  Barbara Scott did one dripping with innuendo called “Toasters Are Better Than Toast” from the musical Stayin’ Single.   John Remak had us shaking with laughter singing “The US Geological Survey” from the show 9.6.  Journalists brainstormed stories in Newsroom with the song “A Pencil and A Prostitute.”  Diane Rachel railed against her ex’s new squeeze in the song “Wassup Motherf**ker.”  My favorite was “The Pub’s Closed, Get Out” from the musical Jolly Old England.  This was the song the audience chose for the second act musical.

Because I’m such an anglophile, I was delighted that they were doing a British musical.  The show that the actors improvised probably should have been called Fishy Old England.  It was set in a fish market and a fish restaurant, starring fish sellers and fish chefs.  The British accents were pretty inconsistent, but that just added to the humor.  Diane Rachel seemed to have the most fun stretching out her vowels.  I really liked Corey Rosen, because he had a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and he was so committed to holding his invisible basket of fish.   The show could have had a lot more English references and a lot less fish, but it’s easy to be an armchair critic, not to mention an armchair improviser.  It’s one thing to sit in the audience and think of things you would do, but a different story when you’re on the stage on the spot.

Last Saturday, I went back to the Bayfront Theater for another BATS Improv show called The Life Game.  I got to see things from a different perspective, because this time I was a volunteer.  It’s been years since I worked backstage as a techie, and it was so much fun to be running around a theatre again.  Visiting the lighting booth and going backstage brought back lots of memories.  Three of the actors from Spontaneous Broadway were back for The Life Game, plus another four from the Main Stage Company’s group of nineteen regulars.  Veteran actor Barbara Scott gave each of the volunteers a welcoming hug, and we were invited onstage for introductions with the actors.  I was assigned to concessions, where I sold bottled water, beer, wine, cookies, and candy.  I had a great time.  Not only did the volunteers get to see the performance, we also got a voucher to see another show for free.   This was a particularly good volunteer experience, so I’m doing the improvised Elvis Musical tomorrow, and I’ve also signed up for Warp Speed, an improvised Star Trek.  Sorry, BATS, it looks like your stuck with me now!

Fort Mason, San Francisco

Fort Mason, San Francisco

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Filed under Actors, Theatre, Volunteer Work