“Do you want to sit inside or outside?” asks Larry Williams, cup of coffee in hand, poised midway between an indoor table and the door to the sunbaked patio area at the Broadway Peet’s. “Hey, I’m a trained improvisational comedian, so I can make it work either way.”
We choose the table. Pulling up a chair, Williams — hard-working actor-director-and-comic — notes that we’re just down the street from his “day job” at Peterson Mechanical, where he works as director of technical services.
“I draw three-dimensional drawings of plumbing,” says Williams, who lists such projects as Sutter hospital in Santa Rosa and Marin General Hospital on his resume. “It’s very interesting work – and it’s pretty much the exact opposite of improvising a musical comedy in front of a live audience.”
He’s referring to his latest theatrical endeavor, a little thing called “Playwright: An Improvised Musical,” which he’s directing and will appear in this weekend at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Presented by Monkey Monkey + Larry, a local improv comedy troupe with which Williams often performs, the show begins with the audience choosing a famous playwright — either Sam Shepard, Neil Simon or Tennessee Williams — the style of which the troupe will emulate as they invent a full-scale musical, complete with songs and dance numbers, right on the spot.
“It’s something to see, believe you me,” laughs Williams.
He describes his particular style of improvisational comedy as “long form improv.”
“It’s better known in San Francisco and New York, where this kind of thing is pretty huge,” says Williams “This is not ‘Who’s Line Is It, Anyway?’ which is what people think of when they hear the word ‘improv.’ This is live storytelling, two hours of a show in which the audience watches us take their suggestions, and then build the characters, create an environment, and make up a show using only our instincts, comic inclinations, and our trust of each other as comedians.”
It is, he says, as exciting to perform as it is to watch.
“It’s one of the most high-wire, on-the-edge forms of comedy you will ever see,” he says. “It would be hard enough just doing a regular play. But adding improvised music to it just makes it all the more outrageous.”
There will be a live accompanist playing along as the actors make up lyrics to go with the newly-minted tune.
“Fortunately,” Williams says, “most of us can actually sing.”
Born in Santa Barbara, the son of a highway landscaper who moved his family all over the Southwest, anywhere a new highway was being built — Pismo Beach, Crescent City, Las Vegas. When they finally settled down into a less nomadic lifestyle, Williams ended up in Novato, where he attended high school, and eventually took classes at Indian Valley College.
“That’s where I ended up getting into drama, something I’d always secretly been wanting to do,” he says. “The high school group I hung out with did not much go for people who did theater, though, so I buried those inclinations. I was a bad boy, greaser, smoking-area type of guy in high school, but I always wanted to try my hand at theater, and college was where I got my chance.”
Taking his first theater class, Williams says, was an experience that turned his entire life upside down. For one thing, it’s where he discovered his inner comedian.
PLAYWRIGHT: AN IMPROVIZED MUSICAL
When: Friday, September 29 and Saturday, September 30, 8 p.m. show time
Where: Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Ln., Rohnert Park
Tickets: All seats $15. This show takes place in the smaller Condiotti Experimental Theater, so seats are limited. Advance reservations are recommended.
Information: Call the box office at (707) 588-3500 or visit the website at SpreckelsOnline.com (Click on ‘Purchase Tickets Here’ to locate ‘Playwright: An Improvized Musical’)