You'll be surprised

Impro Theatre takes comedy and drama to a new level. The Los Angeles-based improvisational company's unscripted shows use a range of literary styles to improvise stories from audience suggestions.

"We're trying to invent a new model of playwrighting, where the actors write the scripts in real time in front of the audience," says Brian Lohmann, associate artistic director of Impro. "We don't have any idea in advance of what the story is going to be. We just leap off the cliff and build the airplane on the way down."

To date, Impro Theatre has several unscripted shows to its credit, drawing from the work of such playwrights as Tennessee Williams, Anton Chekhov, writer Jane Austen and others.

The company will present "L.A. Noir Unscripted" at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 21, in the Thomas Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Admission is $20, $10 for youth. Call 541-482-4331 or see for information.

"It's inspired by the films and books that came out of the hard-boiled noir traditions of the '30s and '40s," Lohmann says. "It's an homage to the genre. We studied such writers as Horace McCoy ("They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye") and Raymond Chandler ("The Big Sleep," "Farewell, My Lovely," "The Long Goodbye").

"Since we're presenting the show on the set of OSF's 'Liquid Plain,' we also wanted to get a feel for how the world of noir exists on a waterfront setting. So we looked at 'Key Largo' with Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson and 'Pickup on South Street,' a Sam Fuller film starring Richard Widmark and Thelma Ritter.

"The world of water takes up a lot of real estate," he says. "It's deep and mysterious, and adds to the element of the unknown."

Lohmann directs "L.A. Noir Unscripted," and the cast includes Lisa Fredrickson, who's come up with the character of a grieving woman who pushed her husband in front of a car, and Stan O'Connor, who's played a weasely blackmailer and a troubled World War II veteran at rehearsals.

"The actors don't decide what characters they'll play until they walk onto stage," Lohmann says. "We're constructing the story and its structure in front of the audience. We rely on each other to see where scenes lead us — and we're often as surprised as anyone who's watching."

Edi Patterson, Michele Spears and Floyd Van Buskirk fill out the cast. They walk out, face the audience and ask its members to name a place in Los Angeles and an object. Then a story is born. They mix their knowledge of the language of a writer or genre with physicality to bring character and plot to life in an instant.

Impro Theatre will present "Shakespeare Unscripted" at 6:45 p.m. Friday, July 19, at the Green Show in OSF's courtyard. Admission is free.

"We'll start that show with an image from nature," Lohmann says. "We may get some interaction from the audience to help us create a world. It's a lot of fun, especially for children."

At noon Saturday, July 20, Lohmann and the Impro ensemble will host an interactive demonstration, "Stolen Jewelry and Shrewish Dames: At the Corner of Shakespeare and Noir," in Carpenter Hall on the OSF campus. Anyone interested in improvising stories may participate. Tickets cost $10, $8 for ages 6 through 17, and may be purchased online at or at the box office.

In September, the improv troupe will present "Twilight Zone Unscripted" at the Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles.

Founded as Los Angeles Theatresports in 1988, the company evolved from a short-form improv troupe to a critically acclaimed improvisational theater company. Impro has played around the world — from Melbourne Fringe in Australia and Theatre Adyar in Paris to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Calif., and OSF in Ashland.

Led by Artistic Director Dan O'Connor — who founded Impro Theatre — the company is made up of professional actors, writers and directors who have worked extensively in theater, television and film.

Members have performed at The HBO Comedy Arts Festival, Just For Laughs in Montreal, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and for throngs of Klingons at Star Trek conventions.

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