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Review: The 6th Annual San Francisco Theater Festival
By Douglas Shepard (Editor in Chief, RarityGuide.com)
Published on 07/31/2009
In the warm sunlight of Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco, the 6th Annual Theater Festival was hosted. With a myriad of options, there was something for everyone.

The 6th Annual San Francisco Theater Festival

On July 26th in the Yerba Buena Gardens near the Metreon, the 6th Annual Theater Festival was held. Those in attendance were welcomed by warm sun light and a gentle breeze. Running from 11am to 5pm, showing over 135 performances on 17 stages, it was a sight to see. Many of the local Improvisation groups had performances, as well as smaller productions could find an audience. Drama, comedy, musicals, story telling, there was a little of everything there, simply a matter of deciding on what to watch.

There was always something interesting going on so choosing any one thing was more difficult than one would expect. Our first stop was to see the Comedy Sportz troupe from San Jose. This group has a decent reputation within their circles, having started back in 1987, having done over 5,000 shows. This includes performances for various corporate functions locally and a fair number of international shows, having acted in France and Italy. Comedy Sportz is a different form of improvisation in that it has a stronger competitive nature than most. Like any sport, it has a Referee who awards points and calls fouls. There are only 2 real fouls in Comedy Sportz: “Groaners” and “Brown Bag”. “Groaners” simply are bad jokes and stunts that incite the audience to groan. The guilty performer, at the conclusion of the scene, must then step forward and apologize to the crowd. If the apology is rejected, the team loses a point. The “Brown Bag” foul applies to both the audience and the performers. A “Brown Bag” is called on anyone for crude, derogatory, out-of-context calls during the show. A paper bag is then place on the offender’s head for the rest of the scene. It was a much condensed version of their usual show, only playing four games, but just as entertaining.

One of the best shows of the day was when the casts from “Wicked” and “Beach Blanket Babylon” came onto the main stage. The cast of “Wicked” came on and performed one of their musical numbers, “Popular”. While I personally have yet to see the show, after hearing this song, I wanted to. They also stated some facts about the show, such as it began its run at the Curran Theater in San Francisco, and how it received more praise from audience than critics. It was followed by the MC coming up and doing a short round of trivia, with T-shirts as prizes. After a short interlude, for sound changes, “Beach Blanket Babylon” came on. Again, the MC told the audience numerous facts about the show, such as it started in 1974 and was only supposed to run from 6 weeks, not its present run of 35 years! While “Wicked” got one song, “Beach Blanket Babylon” was able to perform four, among them “It’s Raining Men” and “Respect”. It was concluded with trivia about the show again for T-shirts.

The most notable for us at Rarity Guide though, was attending the BATS Improv Group performance. While somewhat competitive, everyone would help everyone else out with their performances, even if it was as simple as interpretive dance or becoming scenery. They would play games, but it would trade off, with one team doing something than changing to the other team who would do something else. They also involved at audience a lot, calling on a few volunteers to help get them started with material, even weaving a story with a child’s aid. It was a very good performance to attend more toward the ending of the festival.

The day, for us, was concluded after seeing one last Improv group, from Stagebridge Theaters, the Antiques. It was a nice change as it was an Elderly Improvisation Group. The games were also different, opening with an “Irish Drinking Song” all about Ice Cream. It was simple, in that if the performer couldn’t think of something to sing or just lost the beat, they were out for the round. They followed it with a multiple performer game, “Poem”, complete with translation and interpretive dance. It was a very amusing game to watch and simply to listen, as everything was based on what the person implied through their various sounds. Easily though, the most challenging game in this show was the “Alphabet Game”, calling on the performers to begin their sentences with a specific letter, starting with “A”, and with a bit of luck, running all the way to “Z” or beyond. “X”, understandably was the most difficult one for the performers as not too many words start with “X”. The next game, “The Blues”, called for the audience to choose a topic for a blues song and in true San Francisco fashion, someone called out “Fog”. One could not help but laugh listening to it. Their final game was very amusing, having them ask the audience for items, getting a few things, including a baby. It was the “Antiques Road Show”. The performers took turns, choosing an object, talking a bit about it then stating a value. The baby was the highest valued item as an “automaton replica of the Bonny Prince Charles” around $35,000.

At the end of the festival, we went on back, talking about the various shows we had seen. I would have to agree though, that it is a festival worth attending a second time.