By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
The Loose Screws, from left: Stephanie Sanchez, Julia Gilman,
R. Kevin Doyle, Sean T.C. O'Malley, Michelle de la Cruz,
Shannon Winpenny and Tony Pisculli.

Loose Screws

This improvisational stage troupe
takes its cues from the audience

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Most theater groups rehearse to make sure nothing unexpected happens and that each cast member knows exactly what to do and exactly when to do it. But Sean T.C. O'Malley and Loose Screws seek the unexpected.

O'Malley says the risk and potential for a high payoff are the reasons he's interested in improvisation.

"Once you get past the challenge of being able to get up in front of an audience not knowing what you're going to do, the next thing is to see what you really can do when you're up there," he said.

The Loose Screws septet has two months of preparation invested in "Brainstorming," an ambitious new production that opens tonight. O'Malley hopes it will take local improvisational theater in a fresh direction.

The audience will be asked to provide ideas for characters, situations and an opening mood. Loose Screws will then take those suggestions, map out the central relationships, develop a plot and subplot, and create a story.

Actor/Director O'Malley will "pop out of the action" from time to time and solicit input on where the story should go next.

"We've been working on editing techniques for transiting from one scene to another but keeping (the characters) in the same world and being true to the story, exploring the characters and the consequences of their actions," he said.

This is not the "tag-team comedy" style popularized locally by Ray Bumatai. It's not a "can-you-top-this" competition within the group, or a non-stop, whoop-it-up audience participation fest. And it's not in-your-face theater like Manoa Valley Theatre's "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding."

"This is completely spontaneous and there's no one personality or character trait that you have to have every night. Any of us can be anything we want," said Screw member Shannon Winpenny.

"When we did 'Write Before Your Eyes: The New Commedia' (in 1994) we had some set bits that we could call for periodically. We have nothing of the sort in this one so there's nothing set about this," another Screw, R. Kevin Doyle, said.

O'Malley and Doyle are two senior Screws. Tony Pisculli is another with a lot of prior experience at University of Hawaii-Manoa Kennedy Theatre ("I've wanted to do story-oriented improv since I saw these guys do 'The New Commedia' ").

Julia Gilman participated in the Screws' Improvisational Mara-thon in 1995. Stephanie Sanchez also likes improv; O'Malley brought her in to this show only three weeks ago.

Michelle de la Cruz had a minuscule role in Leeward Community College's production of "Tartuffe" last fall. She auditioned for the group out of curiosity. "I had no what improv was . . . and this is what happened."

As with their varied training and practical experience, the Screws' age range spreads over 14 years. O'Malley says that's all good for doing improv.

"Not having great experience in scripted theater doesn't mean one thing or the other when it comes to improv," O'Malley says.

"People who have tremendous experience and are fantastic on stage in a scripted show are not necessarily the same people that are really good at improv. Sometimes people can be good at both things but it doesn't necessarily follow.

"It's not about competition, or jumping in and trying to be funny. It's about exploring what happens because of what is going on in the scene, going with the flow, not rejecting any offers that the teammates make -- and not calling for anything (from the others) that's seriously difficult."

"Can we improvise dramatic theater that can be very funny but still has some meat to it and hangs together as a story?"

He pauses, considering. "Come see if we can. Then come see us again. No one will ever see the same show twice!"

Shake it loose

Every show is different when Loose Screws performs "Brainstormers":
Moiliili Community Center: 10 p.m. today, March 21-22, April 2, 3, 5
Leeward Community College Lab Theatre: 8 p.m. April 24-26
Tickets: $10, $8 for students, seniors and military
Call: 955-1555.

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