By ROBERT TRUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
Every show has its fans, but how many productions are attended by the same theatergoer at every single performance?
The answer is none — unless you happen to be talking about “Game Show.”
The comedy set against the backdrop of a TV quiz show is at the New Theatre. It opened Nov. 10, and will wrap up with two performances today.
And, as she has for the last two and half months, a young woman known to theatergoers as “Tina Williams from Raytown” will take her seat at a small table, go through the buffet line, chat with members of the audience nearby, interact with the waitstaff and try her best to blend in with the crowd. Until, that is, it’s time for her stop blending.
“Game Show,” you see, is an audience-participation show. Some of the audience participants are very real. They bought tickets to the show with a vague awareness that they might be called onstage to take part in four rounds of games.
But Tina Williams is actually an improv actress from Chicago named Kate Brown. And she’s so good at seeming like a “normal” person that most people in the audience are fooled until late in the show.
“Because I have to be part of the audience, I’m really just playing myself,” Brown said. “If I look nervous, it’s because I allow myself to be nervous.”
Brown is one of two Chicago actors in the production. The other is Peter DeFaria, also an improv performer, who plays a camera operator. The trick, Brown said, is to seem like a convincingly reluctant participant. “Tina” is initially selected to help the fictional TV show’s star Troy Richards (played by Charles Shaugnessy) read the introductions early in the show. Then she returns to her seat.
But later in Act I, Troy Richards tells his production manager how attractive he thinks Tina Williams of Raytown is and asks him to get her phone number. Then, in Act 2, Troy descends to the audience again and enlists Tina to help him ask questions. Eventually she’s lured back to the stage where she becomes increasingly involved in the plot.
Just how reluctant Tina is, Brown said, reflects the audience at each performance.
“When I’m in the audience I try to gauge my level of willing participation based on the audience energy,” she said. “If they’re kind of wild and crazy, and have a couple of drinks and clap and cheer, you get a sharper, funnier — but still nervous — version of Tina.”
Parts of the show are tightly scripted but other scenes are very loose because much of what happens will be determined by audience reactions. When director Richard Carrothers decided Tina should live in Raytown, it didn’t take long for Brown to understand that the venerable suburban community just east of Kansas City and south of Independence has long been the brunt of jokes for its perceived backwardness.
“I intended to do some serious actor research about Raytown but as (the show) started rolling people just told me about it,” she said. “So I looked at the geography of Raytown so I would know where things were and I picked a place where I lived and I made up a place to work.”
Her backstory involved Tina moving to Raytown from southeast Iowa — where Brown is from — and having English teachers for parents, which she does.
“That stuff is all real because it’s my real life,” she said. “I have to be a real person, and it’s easier to be a real person if most of the stuff coming out of your mouth is true.”
Brown is always seated at a single table but there are plenty of real customers on all sides for her to chat with. Some are suspicious and demand to know from very early on if she’s really part of the show. But most just swallow her performance hook, line and sinker.
And, yes, Brown always eats dinner — sometimes twice a day.
“I kind of do,” she said. “I feel like it wouldn’t be real if I sat there and didn’t eat. It would be pretty suspicious. The food is absolutely delicious and the first week I was like, ‘This is great!’ But then I gained four pounds. So now I just eat vegetables most of the time. And I always eat the salads.”
To make the performance work she has to walk a fine line, she said.
“The way I know how to explain it is I react honestly to everything that happens to me,” she said. “I react as honestly as possible. If an actor gets too close to me, I back up. If the cameras come on, I notice it. You acknowledge that kind of thing. You acknowledge the lights are very bright. Another trick is to say as little as possible because actors try to be funny and real people just try not to embarrass themselves.”
© 2012 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.