Arts » Comedy

PT Scarborough brings improv abandon to bad movies

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Have you ever been happily seated in a movie theater—lights low, film rolling, popcorn in hand—and suddenly the sound cuts out? This happened to me recently while watching a movie at a multiplex. This was an unpleasant experience: What am I missing? What are the robots saying now? Is this going to get fixed soon?

Little did I know that the audio mishap could have been a fantastic development if only I'd been in the company of PT Scarborough.

Scarborough, a veteran VisArt Video employee and longtime improv comedian, has developed a one-man show for DSI Comedy Theater in which he completely overdubs the soundtrack to a motion picture before the audience's eyes and ears.

The show—PT Scarborough is a Movie—is aptly named. Scarborough provides the dialogue. Scarborough provides the sound effects. Scarborough even provides the ambient sounds (I won't disclose how, but he had me giggling the whole way through). What's more, the audience gets to pick a movie that Scarborough says he has never seen before.

So not only are viewers expecting comedic aural entertainment, but the improv stakes are high. The demands on Scarborough's imagination and mouth are nonstop. I've noticed that with improv theater—and not exempting the guest acts that took the stage prior to Scarborough—you generally have to sit through a lot of misses before you get a knee-slapping hit. Yet PT Scarborough is a Movie is all hits.

Folded into a shadowy director's chair with a mic and facing the screen, Scarborough is all but invisible to the audience. First up is a film logo followed by a film trailer, and initially some of the effects are predictable: Scarborough's voices lag about one second behind the appearance of each talking head, and it takes him fewer than 20 seconds to deepen his voice and drawl, But one man ... Yet, as the trailer picks up speed, the dialogue lag becomes more entertaining and I start to notice that this trailer sounds like a trailer. Scarborough's VisArt experience is coming though.

Next up is the first 25 minutes of the feature film, churned out by DSI's state-of-the-art system for taking audience votes—three DVD covers, three Solo cups and a pile of raffle tickets. We have wisely chosen the sci-fi extravaganza Princess of Mars, starring one-time porn actress and John Waters muse Traci Lords. Once the frenetic pace of the trailer gives way to a more natural tempo, there is often no discernable lag whatsoever to Scarborough's sounds. In fact, he's uncanny in his ability to sense what will develop in the film's scenes. On more than one occasion, his quirky dialogue seems to sync with the actors' lip movement, to great comedic effect. Although Scarborough could stand to work on his accents, his talent with voice acting is apparent. His conversations and soundscapes begin to blend with the scenes in a way that feels very much like watching a movie and often makes sense—at least as much as one can make sense of a film involving bazooka explosions, low-gravity nudity and regiments of Martian dinosaurs. This is not to say that Scarborough's Foley effects match up with the film's true sound. For instance, when the marching dinosaurs show up, he disregards the obvious choices (thwomp, thwomp, or an ominous bawm-ba-da-bum) in favor of humming a catchy tune and some Richard Simmons-inspired encouragement (C'mon ladies, pick those legs up! One, two, one, two ...). But the improvisational aspects and Scarborough's freedom of imagination are what make this a theater experience. When the screen goes dark 25 minutes into the program, signaling its end, I am sorely disappointed.

Now, to be sure, if you aren't in the mood for this to go in a few obvious directions—such as homoerotic references and at least one expertly timed fart noise—you may want to go see a regular movie. But I'd trade my popcorn and audio blips for a $4 beer and PT Scarborough is a Movie anytime.

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