STORYTELLING AS THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE: “PREVIOUSLY SECRET INFORMATION”

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“Previously Secret Information” a story telling event produced monthly at Stage Werx by Joe Klocek, Bruce Pachman and Ty Mckenzie.

November Storytellers: Evan Karp, James Judd, Sandi Selvi and Joe Klocek.

Theatrical story telling is on the upswing in popularity. Not quite theatre, not quite standup comedy, not quite literary reading, storytelling is a unique form of theatrical entertainment in which “ordinary people” tell stories from their own lives in an improvisational manner without notes or memorized text. It might well be characterized as live theatre’s response to reality TV.

Nationally, NPR has given us two storytelling programs: “Snap Judgement” and “The Moth Radio Hour” which have both found enthusiastic audiences.

Locally, Arlene Klatt and Beth Lisick have hosted the highly successful “Porchlight Storytelling Series” at The Verdi Club for the past decade.

More recently, Joe Klocek, Bruce Pachman and Ty Mckenzie have entered the arena with “Previously Secret Information”, a series which debuted a few months ago. I recently attended its latest incarnation. Storytellers included literary journalist and reading series producer Evan Karp and three professional comedians, James Judd, Sandi Selvi and Joe Klocek.

The stories were charming and it was a pleasant evening of entertainment with some caveats.

Although a lack of polish is part of the appeal of this sort of thing, in some ways the evening seemed poorly planned. For example, Joe Klocek (who has been named as San Francisco’s Best Comedian 2011 by SF Weekly) closed the show with a story that lasted a full half hour. Since the three previous performers told stories less than half that length, they seemed to be “openers” for Mr. Klocek. In that case, Mr. Klocek’s set should have been more polished and less improvisational and the warm-up pieces shorter. I don’t think that was the point, however, and I believe the producers should consider equal (and firm) time limits for each performer, perhaps something less than 15 minutes, which seemed quite long.

It is a danger, too, when professionals like James Judd tell a story in this improvisational manner. The danger is that instead of the honest efforts of an amateur storyteller, we feel like we are hearing the unpolished work of a professional.

Evan Karp and Sandi Selvi were best served by the format. Mr. Karp has a charming stage presence (well known to attendees of Quiet Lightning) though he is clearly not a professional stage performer which is appropriate in this context. His account of his adolescent encounters with the police and his pot-loving father was both entertaining and oddly touching. Sandi Selvi’s highly personal story of her struggles with multiple sclerosis (and its cure by means of a stem cell transplant) was equally moving and memorable.

Host and co-producer Bruce Pachman introduced the storytellers with friendly banter. He also informed the audience that the producers are taping many of the stories to put together a TV pilot in hopes of selling the show to a television producer.

Before that happens, the series would benefit from more careful attention to such matters as stage setting and lighting, timing and a balance between professional standup (perhaps from the host) and amateur storytelling.

Given the talented team behind this project, I have no doubt that all of the kinks will eventually be ironed out.

In the meantime, attendees can expect an unusual evening, with reliable high points.

The next edition of “Previously Secret Information” is scheduled for Sunday, December 11 and will feature Joel Selvin, Will and Deb Durst, Sammy Obeid and Joe Klocek. For further information click here.

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