Two Philly theater companies plan round-the-clock perfomances

At some point the inspiration will leave, the caffeine rendered useless, and the audience will dwindle down to the dregs.

No sleep ‘til curtain.

Two theater companies, White Pines Productions and Philly Improv Theater, are embarking on two endurance stunts of 24 hours and 38 hours, respectively.

In its Elkins Park space, the White Pines Productions resident ensemble – Bright Invention – is working up 24 different ways to improvise a one-hour scene, back to back. One such is a film noir-style improv.

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“I don’t like that case, sir,” said Kristen Norine, employing her best Judy Holliday voice as she invents a private eye secretary.

“Nobody likes that case, doll face,” said Bob Stineman, holding an invisible bourbon, rocks.

“I‘ve seen those boys around town, and I just think that they’re bad news.”

“They are bad news,” Stineman growled. “That’s why they hire people like me to take care of that news.”

The actors are not rehearsing a script, but learning to read each other. There is little else they can do to prepare for a 24-hour Improvathon.

artistic directorJennifer MacMillan, artistic director of Bright Invention, guides the troupe through exercises in preparation for their 24-hour improv marathon. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“What happens when you push past a certain point?” said director Jennifer MacMillan. “What happens after you’ve been doing something for 16 hours, and you’re starting to lose it a little bit?  I think it’s exciting. And challenging.”

Improvathon, Dec. 6 and 7 at Plays and Players Theater in Rittenhouse Square, is the final leg of a fundraising campaign to maintain the White Pines office and performance space in Elkins Park.  What’s perhaps more unusual than performing for 24 hours is the plan to give away 20 percent of the fundraiser proceeds.

MacMillan has partnered with other theater companies in the region to play along with her. Companies including EgoPo and the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium will join Bright Invention onstage to improvise for an hour on a theme related to their own missions (classical literature for EgoPo, absurdist improv for IRC). The visiting company will get a plug, and 20 percent of the door for that hour.

“I like the idea of theatrical community sharing,” said MacMillan. “There’s a fear of sharing, that it dilutes subscribers from coming to your own event. I’m hoping that’s not the case, and that more brings more.”

comedy marathonThe organizers of the Black Friday Comedy Marathon include (from left) producers Greg Maughan, Ralph Andracchio, and Brian Kelly, and hosts Matt Aukamp and Pat Reber. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Another performance company in town, Philly Improv Theater, will push the endurance envelope further with a 38-hour comedy festival over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The Black Friday Comedy Festival is a lineup of 115 comedy acts – standup, sketch, improve and variety acts – beginning at 10 a.m. Friday and ending at midnight the next day.

“At some point, we’re going to lose the performer façade completely, and we’re going to just be broken people up there trying to entertain,” said Matt Aukamp, of the ensemble Hey We’re Cool, acting act as host for the entire event. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

Inspired by the annual round-the-clock Del Close festival in New York, the BFCF is – all jokes aside – a community-building endeavor. Philly Improv Theater recently put its roots down in the Adrienne Theater in Rittenhouse Square, so, for the first time, the company can centralize its operation.

“This is a hub. All our classes, shows, offices are in one building. We’re trying to expand that to the whole community now,” said Greg Maughan, who founded PHIT almost 10 years ago. “The festival is something for the audience, but it’s also something for the performers. We’re having a party for 38 hours. We’re serving everybody breakfast on Saturday morning. We hope people will find like-minded people to collaborate with.”

Maughan points down the hall to Comedy Sportz, across the street to the Helium comedy club, and a few blocks away at Plays and Players Theater where 1812 Productions produces theatrical comedy, to show that a critical mass of local comedy is congealing. He wants to put PHIT on par with Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC, Second City in Chicago, and Groundlings in LA.

The 38-hour festival is a trial by fire.

“We may be at our lowest at three in the morning, but we’re still there for each other. And that makes everybody stronger,” said PHIT artistic director Ralph Andracchio.

The festival is extending itself to local businesses. Anybody presenting a receipt for merchandise purchased from a local retailer on Black Friday will get into the festival for free.

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