When Philip Geurin was studying physics and engineering in college, he had fun on the side doing theater. He did the same in high school, but the point is that this dude is freaking smart. And he's got a plan.
His baby these days is the Fancy Pants Theater Company, and man, does he have a lot to say about it and where it's headed.
"A lot of cities have improv groups, and they teach classes and do shows," he said. "Ideally, I'll own a theater and teach classes regularly and have a whole bunch of groups that do shows and have a Thursday-Friday-Saturday-night show. I started training in OKC about six months ago, and that's something they have. I've started teaching classes, like at Laughing Matter. Probably the goal then, is once we do the shows and people say, 'Wow,' then they'll say, 'Well, can I do that?' And that's already started. Each season, I hope to grow membership and keep growing. And every time I teach a six-week class, those people can put on a show. So then you'll have more and more shows and you rent more and more theater space until it becomes economical to own your own."
So the man obviously has goals.
His main, short-term goal now, though, is to get the word out about what he and his fellow improv actors are doing.
Currently working to put on about one show per month at the Spotlight Theater, Geurin said that Fancy Pants just sort of happened.
"We've been practicing for about a year," he said. "Members kind of came and went, and in the last few months, it started getting really good. We practiced, and it went from jam band to, 'Hey, we've got something really good here.' So we started putting on shows."
If you let him (and I did), he will give you a detailed history of improvisational theater, and because he's so damn smart, you feel compelled to listen to him. And even if he weren't smart or articulate, he's so freaking passionate about it that you can't help but go along for the ride. And he starts that ride with the one improv group that pretty much everyone has heard of: the place where America discovered Wayne Brady.
"Whose Line Is It Anyway? has been really great for improv, really.
It's gotten it on everyone's mind," he said. But there are drawbacks to that, as Fancy Pants isn't the same kind of improv.
"It does change people's expectations for what they're going to see. It tends to be very silly, which is great, but we tend to do stuff that's more fantastic rather than silly, 'fantastic' meaning we're more likely to have a flower that talks to us," he said.
"Improv was sort of developed in two different places simultaneously like calculus was," he continued, not noticing the look on my face that very like said, "Did this theater person just say 'calculus'?"
"I trained with Keith Johnstone. He came from the other side of improv. As a result, it feels different, but they're called the same thing. So we come from the Johnstonian branch, which is the English branch. Once I figured out what that was, I was like, 'Yes, this is it, this is it,'" Geurin said.
He spoke at length about the differences in the two (Whose Line vs. Johnstonian), but the main difference lies in the setup before the action starts.
"There are different kinds," Geurin explained. "There's game-playing, which is like, 'These are the rules of the game: every sentence has to start with the next letter of the alphabet.' And then there's scenic, which is like characters with motivations and these sort of authentic moments that are larger than life--the kind of moments that a person might have three of them in their life."
What ends up happening, then, is that making people laugh, a la Colin Mochrie "singing," becomes less of the focus of this particular theatrical endeavor.
That's not to say that a night at a Fancy Pants show won't have some laughs. It's just that laughter isn't the only thing Geurin is after.
"My goal is always to get the audience to make every kind of noise they can," he said. "If you can get the audience to make one sound at the same time, damn, you did something really powerful, psychologically. It means you tapped into some kind of human nature, and everyone felt the same thing at the same time."
Just how he got here from physics and engineering is probably worthy of a theater piece in and of itself.
"I always did theater in high school, people would say, 'Hey, are you going to New York?' and I'd say, 'No, this will always be a hobby,'" he said. "And then I started graduate school and thought, 'I don't like this. I'm going to go do something else.'"
But what to try was an issue, because while he did have the acting bug, he wasn't crazy about where that might lead.
"To me, 'making it in acting' was getting cast in Cats and doing the same show for 60 years, which just sounds like hell to me," he said. "So I thought, 'I'll just go study engineering.' But then I found improv and thought, 'Yes, this is something I could do.'"
When he came back to Tulsa a few years ago from grad school, he jumped right in.
"Someone mentioned SummerStage, and so I thought, 'Well, I'll try that,'" he said. "And I put in for it and got it, so I did a one-person show called Camp is Not Sexy. It was good. It sold out. People came, and it was great."
Start the rehearsals and the learning, and you're on your way to having an improv troupe.
One wonders, though, exactly how you rehearse a show that doesn't have a script.
"A lot of games," Geurin laughed. "Improv teaches by using games because it's fun, and it teaches people to have good instincts on stage. You do games that focus on listening and things like that. We teach people to have fun and let the story win."
A lot of games because there is a lot to learn.
"You have to learn to be an actor, so we learn for authentic moments, and we learn to have your character to be as smart as you are," he said. "Like if someone says, 'I love you,' you don't just automatically say it back. Maybe you say, 'No, you don't.' You have to learn to mime. You have to learn being spontaneous and feeling safe on stage. There's just so much."
But it seems to be working for him and his company.
Fancy Pants Theater Company will present its next show, Free Soles Improvisational Theater on Friday, August 2 at 7pm at the Spotlight Theater at 1381 S. Riverside Dr.
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