Laugh and improv with Unscrewed Theater
Lights dangle in the lobby by the front door next to a five-foot mural dedicated to the silliness of the theater.
A quick look at the sign will tell you all you need to know — things just aren’t normal in this theater.
At the Unscrewed Theater, currently located at 4500 E. Speedway Blvd., improv-comedy stands tall.
“This is 100 percent local,” said Chris Seidman, executive director of the theater. “We’re about as grassroots as you can get . . . Everyone involved with the organization is a volunteer. Nobody gets paid, not even me.”
The theater's inception
Unscrewed Theater has been performing for the locals in Tucson for five years in brick and mortar, but according to Seidman and his wife Gayla Gongwer, its creation dates back even before the brick and mortar.
Seidman was a part of the founding team Not Burn Out Just Unscrewed, which would perform in various locations all across Tucson.
“Over the time, we’d just perform in bars, restaurants, coffee houses and even the Bookmans on Speedway for a long time,” Seidman said. “Finally, we got to a point where we were performing in regular places every Friday.”
According to Seidman and Gongwer, the schedule was: on Fourth Avenue the first Friday, at a church the second Friday and even at a coffee shop in Marana on the fourth Friday.
“My friends wouldn’t stay up that late,” Gongwer said. “I had to find something else to do . . . So I’m Googling around and I found these guys [the group]. I saw the show and I said, ‘I am hooked on whatever this nonsense is.’”
After performing in the same areas, the group started to pick up on regulars that would attend, Gongwer being one of the regulars at the Marana location, then decided to make it easier on the team and have a central location where the regulars could come to them.
“Once we decided that that’s what we’re gonna do, we filed for a 501(c)(3) for the theater,” Seidman said.
According to 501c3.org, a 501(c)(3) company is “the portion of the US Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations, specifically those that are considered public charities, private foundations or private operating foundations.”
Once the theater got the nonprofit status, they started to raise funds and look for volunteers through handling ticket sales at the front door or even having shows.
You can’t be just any geek off the street — you have to be handy with wordplay. The group held auditions for more teams, or what Seidman calls “house teams.”
There are four house teams at Unscrewed Theater.
Leaky Faucet is a three-person team that takes suggestions at the beginning of their performance. From there they create a persona they use throughout the entire bit.
“For the rest of their performance, those characters interact with each other through the course of a few short scenes,” Seidman said. “They figure out the relationships at the same time as the audience is figuring these things out and how these characters are connected.”
Comic Chaos is a group that takes suggestions, but in the form of unusual superpowers. From there, the group creates a skit that takes place over “two to four issues” according to Seidman. Each issue takes place over a 30-minute period.
From the Top is a group that performs musical numbers based off the suggestions it gets.
“There’s a live piano accompaniment and together they just create musicals to be seen one time and one time only,” Seidman said.
The last team, Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed, is the founding team of Unscrewed Theater. They create games and scenes with audience members that play on the nostalgia of the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
“I’ve played with many of my cast mates for over ten years and the bond I feel with them is unique,” said Michael Vietinghoff, a 14-year member of the team. “I’m also a fan of short-form improv because of its wide audience accessibility.”
While the teams may not be competing against each other, they are still one big family.
“Like any good family, there’s always a healthy dose of dysfunction,” Gongwer said. “There has to be, otherwise you’d just be sailing way too smooth.”
The theater is not only home to funny shows. It also teaches people how to be funny.
On the side of the building rests a smaller facility to serve as the home to Unscrewed Center, where classes on improv are held. But according to Seidman, it also doubles as a community center that people can rent for other uses.
“If there are any groups or clubs on campus that aren’t able to get meeting space, we have that available,” Seidman said.
The center is currently being redone to have a limited art gallery, so actors won’t be performing within blank walls during classes.
The theater has even been used in a wedding, according to Seidman, and is also home to events that are hosted by people who have taken the improv classes before on the same day.
“Our shows are highly interactive where most live shows are not,” Vietinghoff said. “It’s the only live performance where the cast members are discovering the show along with the audience. Plus, I think adults like watching other adults play and agree with each other and have fun; it harkens back to playing pretend as a child.”
For more information on shows, classes or the general location of the theater, you can check out their website at unscrewedtheater.org.
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