3 FOR ALL
Local Improvisation Trio: Interview with Rafe, Stephen and Tim
March 22, 2011 By: Cindy Warner
3 FOR ALL the local improvision trio plays Zeum theater at Yerba Buena for April Fools and the next night, Saturday, April 2 so here's some backstory on the long-time friends and collaborators, Rafe Chase, Stephen Kearin and Tim Orr, who answered my questions by email.
Cindy: I am curious about 3 FOR ALL, what neighborhoods you grew up in.
I grew up Oakland, first in the Grand Lake district, then the Laurel district. Parents didn't seem to keep as close an eye on kids back then, so my friends and I got up to a lot of mischief. (Rafe currently lives in San Francisco.)
I was born in Van Nuys, CA and then moved to the suburbs of Orange County when I was in the third grade. I moved North to attend college in Santa Barbara and then finally San Francisco. (Stephen currently resides in Los Angeles.)
I grew up mostly in Richmond, CA. Rough place. Then I lived in Hayward from 8th grad through my sophomore year of high school, then went to Tam High in Mill Valley for my junior and senior years. (Tim lives in San Francisco.)
[Note from Cindy: I grew up in San Leandro--next to Hayward--and still live in the same stucco tract house I grew up in. It would be funny if not so tragic. Tiny house. Hence my next question.]
Cindy: Where do you get your material?
I use everything I've ever done, seen, read or heard. I am voraciously curious about life.
We get our material from playing off each other and building scenes in the moment. Nothing is prepared or planned in advance.
Well, since it's improvised, I'd say that we get our material from anywhere and everywhere. From our life experience. Every show is different, we never re-use anything, so you need to rely on whatever comes up first in your imagination. And, of course, you pay a lot of attention to what your partners say and do.
Cindy: How physical do they get?
We hit, we kiss, we fall down.... You name it, we do it.
[Note from Cindy: is this the order?]
At times, very physical. Because we never know what we will be acting out, we have to be prepared to play anything. One night we are speed skaters and the next night, one of us is a lizard with polio. These are actual examples, by the way.
We're know as one of the most physical groups in the world, I believe, in that we create environments and action as needed for any kind of improvised scene or story. We aren't fans of "stand and talk" improv, so we strive to be as physical as the situation demands.
Cindy: Are they all Irish?
I am partly Irish along with English and Welsh. But when I sent my DNA to be tested, my mitochondrial DNA traced back to Mongolia 10,000 years ago, probably through a now unknown Native American ancestor on my mother's line. My Y-line test indicated that there is Viking DNA on my father's line. Those Vikings got around, if you know what I mean....
No, but the two who are not, REALLY wish they were.
Only Stephen, if our parents are all telling the truth.
[Note from Cindy, I am English and Welsh too but Norwegian instead of Irish. What does this mean? We think lutefisk and sounding stupid is funny--"uff da" the equivalent of Homer Simpson's "Doh!" or the classic universal "duh"]
Cindy: How did you meet?
Tim and Stephen studied improv with me.
We met performing and taking classes at Bay Area Theatresports.
We met in 1988 through Bay Area Theatresports (now BATS Improv). Rafe had already been doing improv for a while when Stephen and I got started, in fact Rafe was my first improv teacher. We enjoyed performing together, and decided in 1996 to form 3 FOR ALL. At that time, we had never seen an improv group with only 3 people in it, so it was very adventurous.
Cindy: How do you explain your longevity--does it have to do with having no rules and staying topical like Beach Blanket Babylon?
Having "no rules" keeps the stakes high and the excitement palpable. I think the real reason that 3 FOR ALL has maintained its popularity is that all three of us continue to work to be better at our craft, we set the bar high and strive for excellence in a theater form that is completely unpredictable.
I think it has to do with having no rules and NOT staying topical. We tell stories that are based on fundamental human relationships. In this way, you could say, we never go out of style.
Actually, we're not topical at all, in fact we have a common sensibility in that we prefer to tell "timeless" stories rather than topical. Yes, I think that "having no rules" has a lot to do with it. Our format is very, very open -- in fact it's the least structured format that I've ever scene in improv. So in that way our format mirrors the art of improvisation itself, which is very challenging and a great thrill to do. Also, I respect and am close friends with both Rafe and Stephen, so that helps. I guess you could say that we have a good thing going. Rafe always says "If I wasn't in this group, I'd sure want to be". Also, we've been very popular over the years, both in San Francisco , around the US and abroad, so that's kept us going.
Cindy: Are you political?
I think all three of us have strong opinions about almost everything, including politics. And, though we don't think about it, I would imagine that our take on life and the world we live in shapes the underlying feeling or moral of our shows.
We try very hard not to be on stage.
I'd say that we are personally political, certainly. While we don't shy away from political scenes and stories, we don't seek them out either, in the same way that we don't attempt to be topical. But I'd say that we look to portray all facets of humanity, which is, to me, political.
Cindy: Also I'm curious if your personalities have changed much over the years and who changed the most and why.
Since we have known each other for over twenty years, I would hope that we have changed in some manner. I recently ran into Debbie Durst at an event. We had worked together in the late 1970's at the beginning of my career. She hugged me and said, "Who would have thought that that cocky punk I met back then would grow up to be the grand old man of improv?” I thought that was very funny. I guess the biggest change happened a long time ago when Tim and Stephen went from being my students to being my peers and partners. That is my goal as a teacher, to give the player a grounding in the craft of improv that will help take them from being my student to being my colleague. That happened in spades with Tim and Stephen.
There is an old saying that when you get older, you are still yourself, only more so. I think we have all grown more comfortable with ourselves and that has helped the work grow. I'm not sure who has changed the most...we have all settled down a bit more, but remained passionate about what we do. We are never satisfied.
I'm not sure who's changed the most -- we've all matured in some ways, and that does affect the work, in a positive way I think. One thing that I like about Rafe and Stephen is that they're very consistent and steady both as people and as performers. So I'd say that in spite of the changes we've all been through that we've all kept a lot of the qualities that brought us together in the first place.
Cindy: Plus do they still crack each other up and can they surprise each other as they used to?
Yes, absolutely. If anything, it happens more now than ever. It is just magic when we work together and sometimes that magic can surprise even us.
I can only speak for myself and say that Rafe and Tim always make me laugh and are constantly surprising me, every single show. That remains the single most challenging aspect of what we do, that is, to somehow remain in character and not lose it when if feels like the roof is blowing off the place.
Yes, we definitely crack each other up and surprise each other -- it's amazing that you can improvise together for so many years and still maintain that quality.