Ad-Lib Love

Feb 19 • ARTSY SMARTSY, TheaterNo Comments on Ad-Lib Love

Games of the Heart
February 22nd and 23rd
Doors at 5:30; show, 6:30pm
Tickets: $30-$43

LOVE ON THE RISE: TheatreNOW hosts a dating game show in “Games of the Heart,” featuring Katie Sawhill as the bachelorette and Craig Kittner as game-show host Skip Winkendale.  Photo by Zach Hanner

LOVE ON THE RISE: TheatreNOW hosts a dating game show in “Games of the Heart,” featuring Katie Sawhill as the bachelorette and Craig Kittner as game-show host Skip Winkendale. Photo by Zach Hanner

We’ve all seen it: chuck barris or Chuck Woolery connecting singletons in “The Dating Game” and “Love Connection,” often keeping them blushing in anticipation. One can’t help but smile at the antics and unpredictability which would arise from trying to play Cupid. TheatreNOW takes on the same style of entertainment through the rest of February with an original, locally written script by Anthony Lawson, “Games of the Heart.”

The inspiration for a show of this caliber actually started last summer when TheatreNOW owner Alisa Harris asked local writer, actor and producer Tony Moore to write a romantic comedy for the dinner theater’s Valentine’s 2013 show. “I wanted a baseball theme, and then I thought about incorporating a dating game show,” Harris says. “I remember the [comedy troupe] Comically Impaired doing a dating-game improv and thought it was hilarious.”

Since dinner theatre and game shows often remain interactive, Harris knew it would be a perfect fit. When the show didn’t pan out with Moore, she shared the concept with another local writer. “Anthony just went with it,” she says, also noting that TheatreNOW’s creative director Zach Hanner will be taking on a baseball comedy for their summer season.

Lawson loved the idea of a dating show. “It’s very different than my usual writing endeavors,” he says, “because half of the show is improv. Normally my favorite part in writing a script is finding out what my characters are going to say next. In this case, I just let the actors figure out that part.”

The show receives the same setup as other game shows, pitting possible lovers together, with the “live studio audience” being theatre patrons. “All of the questions are made up on the spot, so the contestants—all pulled from the audience—are hearing them for the first time,” Lawson reveals.

Wanting to avoid scripted dialogue, Lawson kept the show loose during rehearsals. He wanted it to feel fresh. “I didn’t want them over rehearsed,” he elaborates, “but I also needed them to work together as a troupe. I was walking a fine line that I think paid off handsomely.”

Craig Kittner plays the egocentric game-show host Skip Winkendale and Katie Sawhill takes on the role of bachelorette. Each passed Lawson’s test of on-the-fly hilarity.
“At auditions I added a few directions to the sides that said ‘improv here,’” he tells. “The people who took that direction in stride and had others thinking it was scripted material got the part.”

Audiences can look forward to becoming participants, too. In fact, “Games of the Heart” participants all receive consolation prizes for their efforts even if they don’t win love. Because of our pop-culture’s fascination with playing matchmaker (think of shows like “Bachelorette,” “Elimidate,” “The Fifth Wheel”), the concept makes it easily marketable. And like other reality or game shows, commercials will air and sponsorships will feature some of Wilmington’s finest attractions. Hanner helped develop the side project and found the consolation prize courtesy of the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington.

“The idea of finding love over dinner is a perfect dinner-theatre concept for Valentine’s Day,” Harris continues. “And, as with many of TheatreNOW’s shows, we are able to incorporate some local appeal.”

The food will consist of an oven-dried tomato and gruyére cheese tart as course one; lobster and seafood pot pie, 18-hour beef brisket or vegetarian entrée for course two; and whoopie pies with strawberry and white chocolate to finish. Denise Gordon and bar manager Leslie Talbott go through the menus with Harris for every show.

“It’s an exciting, creative process that I enjoy being a part of,” Harris says. “It’s really fun to take a theatrical show and make it fully dimensional with the inclusion of the food and beverage menus.”

Having shown Lawson’s work in January’s “Adam & Eve” and last October’s “Fright Night,” Harris trusts the writer’s instincts. “He knows how to incorporate the food/service aspect and does so often with creative aplomb,” she says. “He is a reliable producer of the written word and is a terrific idea-man.”

Tickets are still available for the Friday and Saturday night shows on February 22nd and 23rd. Doors are at 5:30 p.m. with show at 6:30 p.m. Come ready to find love.

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