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Comedy with heart. Silliness, in the absolute best sense of the word. Throw in some closeted gay samurai and ostrich ballet, and you've got Propergander -- that fun, young theater company that guarantees us a good time and keeps hitting us with laughs well past the final scene. APA talks to the crew about their recent hit show "Everybody Dies."
"A lot of people think we're Propaganda," says Randall Park. "But Propergander actually means ‘gander,' which is to see something, and then 'proper,' which is the right way... to see things. It's really the opposite of propaganda, which is something that's forced upon you.
"Also, like a gander of geese. We're like a group of people... who are of the same feather."
He says it with such an earnest, straight face, but with the rest of the cast cracking up in the background, it's hard to tell whether he's serious or joking. But it doesn't really matter. That's the thing about Propergander -- they're always having so much fun that it's hard not to be amused and laugh along with them.
Propergander started from a college theater group that David J. Lee, Randall Park, Naoya Imanishi and Michael Golamco started about ten years ago while they were college students at UCLA. The group L.C.C. (http://www.studentgroups.ucla.edu/lcc/) -- which stands for "Lapu, the Coyote that Cares"-- is still a beloved Asian-American theater troupe on campus that puts on original comedy shows each quarter and gets new aspiring entertainers as members each year.
Samantha Quan and Randall Park discover their fates. Photo courtesy of www.propergander.net.
When the boys graduated, they loosely formed another theater group in order to continue their comedy shows. And herein lies the seeds of what they call "a coalition of artists, some good, some evil" called Propergander.
They started out literally performing in Randall Park's backyard, but soon they were packing up to 70 intoxicated guests a show, despite their flimsy, ghetto-fabulous stage made from wood they found on the street. After Randall's poor mother kicked them out of the backyard -- out of love, I'm sure -- they went on to produce their first full-length play, written by Michael Golamco, called The Achievers. They did the show for a few runs in 2001. This was a sign that Propergander was going places. "I mean, this was our first semi-professional play outside of college," says David J. Lee, "where you don't have their infrastructure, and you don't have their funding and support, but we were selling out houses at the Century City playhouse and at the Morgan Wickson Theater. So that was fantastic."
After the excitement of the play, they decided to return to their L.C.C. roots, with shows that are, as Lee describes: "Short form. Mainly comedic. Not full-on sketch comedy, but more like entertainment with a heart. The story is very important to us." Since they all come from an improv background -- the members have studied at Second City and Groundlings; Randall, Naoya, and Eddie Shin are also part of an improv group called "The Legendary Stage Ninjaz" -- they're able to play around while they're onstage, bringing fresh and new elements to each individual show.
"When we get on stage," says Eddie Shin, "it's half what the script says, and half whatever the hell we want to say, ‘cause we know it's not going to throw anyone off. So every night, it won't be totally different -- but weird things will happen. We're always playing practical jokes on each other. What we like to do a lot, is if people are screwing up onstage, we like to call people out. Cause the audience knows if you flub a line, if your facial hair is coming off, if the props are falling apart... So we're just like, hey what's going on. We screw with each other onstage."
Nancy Lee and Eddie Shin care for an ostrich gone down (David J. Lee). Photo courtesy of www.propergander.net.
Many comedy groups write sketches and do them over and over again, but Propergander prides themselves on constantly coming up with new material. It wasn't until this year's show, "Everybody Dies," that they decided to bring some of their old material back. While the show included a couple of new skits by Lee and Golamco, "Everybody Dies" became sort of a "Best Of" show -- including crowd favorites "Wang Chung" ("an ancient Kung Fu master develops a potent martial art form based on love," glittered with touches of repressed homosexuality), "Night of the Living Dead" (a Halloween story about 24.5-year-old male trick-or-treater whose overprotective Korean mother will barely let him out of the house), and "Seize the Day" (where Dave, Eddie and Nancy dance in ostrich costumes and Tim Chiou leaps around like a cheetah, and ultimately teaches us the invaluable lesson to believe in ourselves.)
"Everybody Dies" ended up selling out 14 of 18 shows during its run, earning acclaim from Backstage West ("Incredibly Charming... Brilliantly executed!) and a recommendation from LA Weekly ("Assured Writing... Consistently Funny.") In addition to making us all better people inside, "Everybody Dies" also served to raise money for Propergander to produce their much anticipated show, The Eight Samurai, their first full-length play since The Achievers, which is currently in pre-production.
Eddie Shin: I think people should come watch 'cause it's fun. I don't think a lot of people our age like to go see theater, 'cause they think it can be stuffy and pretentious... but look around, we sit around making stupid jokes, entertaining people who are the same age as us, and we're just all trying to have a good time. So I think people who don't usually see theater should check it out, and for people who do see theater, they should come check us out 'cause we're a little bit different.
Rick Lee: It's fun to see live theater. Since we've been working together for so long, it's fun for us to do this stuff, and I think people have a good time watching.
Naoya Imanishi: And people don't usually get to see people of color up here, so I think it's good for Asians to see people who look like their families up on stage.
Nancy Lee: Because it's so funny and smart. It has talented actors. You learn something. And it's not like your typical boring weird theater. It's worth your money. And because I'm in it. [laughs]
Tim Chiou: People should come see us because we're poor and we need money. And because it's like soul currency. You watch theater, and you grow a little bit more.
Eddie Shin: We draw everything, we paint everything, we design everything. Pretty much, everyone takes the money they have in their wallet, throws in a hat, we count it and say, "Ok, this is how much money we have to create a show. Let's go do it."
Samantha Quan: Because it's theater made of love. Because everybody really cares about each other, everybody really cares about the work. I don't think you'll find another group that has so much heart, and we all just put everything into it. And, you'll have a good time 'cause it's ridiculous.
Naoya Imanishi: They're all really so talented. I've seen the show like 500 times and I'm always laughing at the same spots. And, you think it gets ridiculous and comes out of nowhere, but then it tells you something about life, so I think that's why people fall in love with our stuff.
David J. Lee: It's one of the funnest shows out there. You will have a good time.
Everybody Dies" review
Date Posted: 8/16/2005