Certainly, when one thinks of Valentine's Day, one thinks of improvisational theatre.
Wait, what? One doesn't? Oh. Well, maybe one should.
To help with that, the Heller Theatre Council hosts a Taste of Chocolate & Comedy on, of all days, Valentine's Day.
Julie Tattershall, a reigning queen of Tulsa theatre and the artistic director of Heller, said that the evening is not only fun, but it's also for a good cause: the event benefits the George Addison and Robin Davis Fund, a scholarship fund named for two deceased, prominent Tulsa actors. The fund is dedicated to helping students attend Heller's annual Spring Break theatre camp.
"They were both actors in the communities, and so we just decided to put together a scholarship in their honor," Tattershall said. "They loved kids, so it's just a good thing to do to tie this benefit to helping kids."
Anyone who has been to a Second City show or seen an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? is at least marginally familiar with the improv genre, but it's a lot more complicated than it may appear.
"What we do is short form improv," Tattershall explained. "You ask the audience for a suggestion of a word or a topic or a celebrity. So you may know the game format, but you don't know what the audience is going to give you. And you just fly without a script."
That's about it. Sounds easy, right? It's not, but Tattershall said there's kind of a built-in safety valve.
"The fun thing about improv is that sometimes even if you crash horribly, it's still pretty funny," she said.
For this particular evening, love will be an obvious topic.
"What we do is the first half is usually games that glorify the wonders of love," she said. "And then we have the second act, where we have Divorce Court."
As the state's oldest improv comedy troupe, Laughing Matter is at a point where they know what they're doing. In fact, they teach classes about it, and that's where they often find new cast members.
"We're the only group that is always open to new people," Tattershall said. "Anyone who wants to give it a try can come to the class, and if they're up to it, we'll at least put them in one game [in an actual show]. It's an open thing to give people a chance to try it."
She breaks down the people who come to the class into two categories, each with its own challenge.
"The people who are trained in scripted theatre usually have the hardest time adjusting to improv, but once they adjust to the format, they make huge leaps in learning it," Tattershall said. "They know about conflict, and things that drive a script, but it's very difficult for actors to just let go."
The other group -- people who have no theatrical training -- usually get out of the gate pretty quickly, but then have a steep learning curve.
"Someone who doesn't have training usually has immediate success, but then you have to teach them theatre basics, like volume, body control, things like that," she said.
Whichever group actors fall into, they often don't stay too long if they're having trouble.
"People come and go depending on whether they have success in the format," Tattershall said.
While Laughing Matter's Valentine's Day show will focus on what Tattershall calls short form improv, she mentions the more vigorous and challenging long form improv.
"After a while, you want more of a challenge," she said. "I love short form, because if you mess up, your pain is over in three minutes. But long form can be up to two hours. And if it takes a really wacko turn, you can't say, 'Hey, we're going to start over.'"
It seems those stakes are considerably higher.
Either way, improv comedy boils down to one thing, and it's not what you probably think it is.
"It's really about trust onstage," Tattershall said. "It's not about trying to be funny, it's about creating something unique and letting a scene kind of go where it wants. People who try to be funny often fall flat."
It would seem, though, in the end, it's about having a good time -- both the audience and the actors.
"It's just goofy fun, and it's a way not to take our art too seriously," she said.
For a benefit called Taste of Chocolate & Comedy, one would expect, oh, I don't know ... chocolate, and one would not be disappointed.
"We've got some local merchants who donated chocolates and donated some desserts, so at intermission, you can have a dessert with your comedy," Tattershall said. "The Cheesecake Factory donated some things, and the Heller board has gone out and gotten about five merchants who have donated some desserts."
She also made sure to point out that this is not a show for lovers only.
"It's a great evening whether you have a romantic partner or don't have, because there's something to relate to for everyone," she said, presumably referring to the second act of the show for the benefit of the people who go stag to the show. "There's one game we made up a few years ago where we were making like dating videos. So then we tell the audience that the people making the videos aren't aggressive enough, and we ask them for an animal. So if they say 'squirrel,' then we make the same dating video but as a squirrel."
And that's just the starting point.
"I love the Valentine's Day show, because it's fun to make fun of our national pastime," Tattershall said.
This one sells out almost every year, so audience members shouldn't count on showing up and getting tickets at the door.
"I would make reservations," Tattershall cautioned. Then she again referred to the benefit aspect of the night.
"Everyone is welcome to contribute more," she said. "We'll have donation jars everywhere. A couple of years ago, we had a few people just give hundred dollar bills just to help these kids go to Spring Break camp. Tulsa is full of really good, really generous people."
Laughing Matter presents Taste of Chocolate & Comedy on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7:30pm. The show will play at the Henthorne Performing Arts Center at 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by phone at 918-746-5065.
Cold War Hangover
While you may not immediately recognize the name of Dmitri Shostakovich, chances are you've heard his music. Widely considered the music of the Bolshevik Revolution, the body of work Shostakovich produced spans a number of musical genres, most notably the Romantic period. While he is probably mostly considered a Romantic composer, his later works employ chromaticism and other elements of atonal and what many consider 20th-century music.
Our own Signature Symphony will perform several of the composer's works in The Many Faces of Dmitri Shostakovich on Saturday, Feb. 16 at the VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education near East 81st Street and Highway 169. On the program is his tenth symphony, largely considered Shostakovich's best work, not to mention his Jazz Suite No. 1 and his first piano concerto. In this latter piece, especially, the listener can readily identify the emotions portrayed therein, and it's a pretty intense piece.
For the concerto, local pianist Amy Cottingham sits in as a guest soloist.
Tickets range from $21.75 to $32.50 and can be purchased online through signaturesymphony.org or myticketoffice.com. The music starts at 8pm.
Billie Jean's Not My Lover, So Bring Yours
The very coolest duo ever presents yet another stupendously awesome show in Vintage Valentines. Jeff Cowen and Jill Wiebe man the viola and harp, respectively, and while they play what most will call classical music -- which is very, very lovely, don't get me wrong -- the thing that sets them apart from your run-of-the-mill pair of instrumentalists is the other stuff in the repertoire. You're as likely to hear Guns 'N' Roses as Gershwin, "Bohemian Rhapsody" as Bach, "Billie Jean" as Beethoven.
Seriously, until you've heard the opening guitar riff from "Sweet Child O' Mine" coming from Wiebe's harp, you haven't lived. Throw in Cowen's lyrical viola making a much nicer sound than Axl Rose ever did, and you've got something magical.
While the pair plays various locations, by far its biggest draw is the Candlelight Concert Series. This series is pretty freaking romantic as it is, but throwing Valentine's Day into the mix just turns up the volume, so to speak. Concerts in this series feature candlelight (hence the name), wine, and a reception afterward with gourmet cheeses and desserts. It's a very intimate setting at the Harwelden Mansion, and for the love angle, expect the elegant music of Debussy and the heartstrings-plucking melodies of Barry Manilow, easily the greatest songwriter of the 20th century.
Yeah, I said it. Take that, Stephen Foster.
As for music of passion, look no further than Rachmaninoff.
Regrettably, the Feb. 14 show has sold out. However, there is a waiting list to be found at candlelightconcertseries.com, and if you get into the show, tickets are $69. Don't get your hopes up, but if you've already got your tickets, or if you are lucky enough to get in on the waiting list, you will certainly be happy with your evening. Guys, take a chick. Seriously.
Shrek the Musical, presented at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center
The ogre from those wonderfully funny films brings his grumpy demeanor to the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center for one night only. If you've seen the Dreamworks films about Shrek -- brainchild of SNL alum Mike Myers and yet another opportunity for John Lithgow to steal the show -- you know the story. It's a kind of fractured fairy tales world, and while it's ostensibly a kids' series of movies, there's plenty of humor thrown in for adults, the way Saturday morning cartoons used to do.
The talkative Donkey is here, as is the evil Lord Farquaad, and the Gingerbread Cookie with a smart mouth.
The source material is pretty freaking hilarious, so it's not such a stretch to hear a few reviewers dub Shrek the Musical "the funniest new musical on Broadway." Large set pieces, big dance numbers, and no fewer than 19 new songs populate this show, which is sure to make for a hugely entertaining evening.
But it's just one evening. Shrek the Musical rolls into Broken Arrow for a Sunday night show on Feb. 17 at 7:30pm. Tickets range from $20 to $45 and are available by phone at 918-259-5778 or through the venue's website at thebapac.com.
If you miss that one, the show is also playing in Bartlesville on Feb. 18 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available at bartlesvillecommunitycenter.com.
Last Look at Concept/OK Exhibition, presented by the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa's Hardesty Arts Center
The inaugural exhibition of the AHHA is coming to a close, and it has been an event worthy of its stunning host facility.
Officially, it all ends this Saturday, Feb. 16, with a public reception commemorating the event's close from 4-6pm. There will be artist lectures, workshops, and much art on display throughout.
The event is free and is the public's last chance to get a look at artwork from 44 artists selected through a competitive process -- so this ain't just stuff plucked off mothers' refrigerators from around town.
Most fascinating to me is the 5pm event featuring artist Narciso Argüelles and his oversized piñata sculpture. He's scheduled to "activate" it. I have no idea what that means, but I really want to see it. There's always the chance it will become sentient and destroy downtown.
More information on the closing event can be found at AHHATulsa.org or 918-584-3333.
Higher Education Faculty Art Show, presented by the PAC Gallery
Art faculty members from four local colleges display their art for the remainder of February downtown at the PAC in this Higher Education Faculty Art Show. Art on display includes oil painting, photography, and mixed media.
Faculty from the University of Tulsa, Tulsa Community College, Rogers State University, and Oral Roberts University join forces for this exhibition, available for public viewing Monday through Friday from 10am to 5:30pm and during Chapman Hall events. The art is for sale as well, ranging from $200 to $9,000.
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