How We First Met ..A unique Valentine treat about the positive side of life.

Falling in love consists of uncorking the imagination
And bottling the common-sense.

“How We First Met is the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day whether you’re on a blind date, going steady or have been married for longer than you can possibly imagine,” said Jill Bourque, who dreamed up the idea for the show ten years ago. “I created the show as a response to the plethora of improv comedy that was very ‘shticky’ and not based on any true emotions. I really wanted to push the boundaries to see what could happen if we used stories from real people.”

And what happened was an instant success on Valentine’s Day, 2001 at San Francisco’s Bayfront Theatre; a show that has played in dozens of cities worldwide. The production has featured hundreds of couples over the years, all united by a common desire to celebrate the love they have for each other. “The very first show sold out and was a heartfelt and hilarious adventure,” said Bourque. “I remember clearly that the audience was ‘pin drop’ quiet during the couple interviews and when the stories were acted out, the laughter came in great rolling waves. It was a cathartic and exciting moment that I had never before experienced in improv comedy. I knew that we were on to something special.”

The experience that planted the seed to develop the show actually happened at Bourque’s own wedding reception because all the guests asked her how she and her husband met. That was when she realized that people are fascinated by stories of how others fall in love. That idea stayed with her and germinated into reality in 2001.

The current production features improv actors Laura Derry, Paul Erskine, Scott Keck and Deborah Wade, keyboardist Jerome Rossen and technical improviser Damon Paiz. Bourque is the MC of the show. “It’s very much a collaborative effort,” said Bourque. “Most of the cast has been with the show since the very beginning. Paul Erskine and Laura Derry were both in the very first show in 2001.”

In each performance, Bourque interviews three couples live on stage about that special moment when chemistry connected them and they knew they were in love. The improv cast transforms their story into real-life sketches and songs. “There is a sort of alchemy that happens when a real-life couple steps on the stage to tell a story,” said Bourque. “The audience identifies with them and becomes charmed.”

In order to be part of the show, couples need to submit their profiles to The selection is narrowed down to ten couples through online voting and audiences choose their favorite lovebirds on the night of the performance. Bourque feels it is her job to create a safe space for couples to relay their special moments in front of an audience. Her intention is to combine real life experience with improv to create comedy and genuine emotions. “Everyone is capable of being interesting,” she says. “Every life is interesting. Sometimes you just have to dig to find it.”

How We First Met started because of Bourque’s determination to create a uniquely imaginative theatrical experience and is now in its tenth year of making Valentines Day memorable for audiences in cities as diverse as San Francisco, Ney York, Tokyo and Melbourne. “What I didn’t expect was to be so surprised and inspired by the stories I hear,” said Bourque. “I thought by now I would have heard it all, but I continue to be amazed at the way love happens.”

You can hear it all too and even tell your own tale of love and romance Saturday February 12 at 8 pm for one night only. “As a host sometimes, I think I’m like a therapist,” said Bourque. “But I’m not going to lie. The couple on stage is having the best time of all.”

How We First Met: Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness Feb.12, 2011 @ 8pm.
Tickets $25-$59 415 392 4400;

Labels: , ,

Actor’s Theatre of San Francisco premiers Keith Phillips’ William Blake Sings the Blues

I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.
Oscar Wilde

Friday night, February 11 at 8 p.m., Actor’s Theatre of San Francisco will continue its tradition of communicating what it means to be alive in a tough, gutsy and existentially dangerous drama, William Blake Sings the Blues. This is the story of two academics competing for the position of chairman of the English department of a small liberal arts college and it is also a play about what makes us who we are. There are issues of morality and class conflicts, violence and tension with real people fighting the same blue devils we all face. “It boils down to the fact that, in reality we are all basically the same,” said the author and director, Keith Phillips, who is also the theater’s founder with his brother Christian, now the Artistic Director of the theater.

Indeed, we are all imperfect beings doing our best to make a decent imprint on our world and every one of us want to think of ourselves as “nice guys”. “Our culture has taught us that audiences cannot be moved unless they are involved in something they believe is real, “said Christian, who plays the role of Sam in this production.

Actors Theatre selects plays that audiences relate to on a very human level. Perhaps that is why they have such a loyal following: people who seek solid theater that explores the issues they face in their own lives. “Our productions reflect the human condition,” said Christian Phillips. “We want to change the way the audience thinks.”

The classic works this group presents prove his point. “Delivering the lines is only half of it,” said Keith Phillips. “The play is driven by its dialogue.”
Christian and Keith adhere to the basic philosophy of the Group Theater. “We have kept our focus on what it means to be human,” said Christian. “It is our heritage. Our father was responsible for changing the state of the arts by creating situational believability in theater. We do plays that are about something…not simply entertainment.”
Their father was Wendell K. Phillips, member of the legendary Group Theater and a teacher at The Actor’s Studio in New York. Their mother is Jean Shelton, founder of the Jean Shelton Actor’s Lab inspired by Stanislavsky approach: If the actor and the role connect, the role comes to life. Both men were taught that the theatrical experience must be strong enough to change the way the audience sees the world. They accomplish this with an ensemble approach to acting. At Actor’s Theatre, we see many of the same actors playing a variety of challenging roles, always dedicated to the social impact of what they are saying. “Good actors take years to build,” observed Christian. “It takes tremendous dedication. You have to function as an artist and your own personal needs need to take a back seat to the ideas of the play. Our goal is to reveal something about life itself.”
You have only to have seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Who’s Afraid of Virginias Woolf to see this theory take shape. These plays though written for another time and another place are as strong today as they were in 1958 ad 1966 because they are about the relationships all of us form and the fragile underpinnings that make them dysfunctional. Many of the plays the Phillips’ select are products of the gay community and for a very good reason “Gay writers are some of the best playwrights in American Theater,” said Christian. “And the largest identifiable group of theatergoers is from that community.
William Blake Sings the Blues is a lesson in morality that illustrates how little we differ from one another. “Our productions reflect the human condition,” said Christian.
Indeed, when you attend a production at Actor’s Theater, you know you are going to see memorable theater done well. Treat yourself to something wonderful and new at the opening of William Blake Sings the Blues, theater that redefines who you are and shows you what you can become. Lafayette, played by Duane Lawrence ends the play by saying “I ain’t never forgot what it felt like being on the outside and having that boy open the door for me and let me in.”
Who among us have not felt isolated and alone in our quest for meaning, aching to be “let in” to we know not where?
William Blake Sings the Blues opens Friday February 11 and plays through Saturday March 5, 2011, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm.
Actors Theater of San Francisco, 855 Bush Street. Tickets $38, students and seniors $26. Box Office: 415 345 1287 or
More information: