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Playtime Has Wirth : And Clowning Around Has Its Place With Audiences in Fullerton

February 07, 1991|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

You've spent years perfecting that oh-so-sophisticated grown-up demeanor, and now some clown wants to teach you how to play?

That's just what Jeff Wirth hopes to do in "With Wirth," a one-man, interactive family show that invites the audience to not only suggest, but also to help create the fun on stage. The show runs Friday and Saturday night at the Fullerton College Campus Theatre.

"The world can be a very serious place, and things like imagination and the freedom to pretend and laugh can often be forgotten," Wirth said. "This show reminds people how good it feels to play."

Based on his credentials, Wirth should make a heck of a playmate. In 1979, the former University of Redlands theater major traded his textbooks for a pair of floppy shoes, enrolling in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College program and spending a year on the road as a Ringling Brothers clown. Later, as artistic director of a small Northern California theater troupe, he helped produce touring shows for family audiences, and still later mounted and starred in his own ballroom dance/comedy revue, "Ha-Cha-Cha."

His acting credits include a local appearance as a "stunt pirate" in "The Pirates of Penzance" on the Pilgrim II, a performance that was capped by a 40-foot dive into the Pacific from the ship's mast.

Obviously, this guy knows how to have fun.

The main objectives of Wirth--now a part-time drama instructor at Fullerton College and director of the Performance Corps, a 4-year-old interactive theater group--are to help people loosen up, yuk it up and remember how to relate to each other in a friendly, even silly, way.

The show, which Wirth recommends for ages 10 and up, has been presented as a work in progress at Fullerton College for the past few months; plans for a national tour are under way.

Combining music, magic and improvisation, "With Wirth" relies heavily on audience participation. At the beginning of the show, audience members are asked to write a word or phrase on a piece of paper, fold it into a paper airplane and sail it onto the stage. Based on these ideas, Wirth springs into action, drawing from a repertoire of 100 rehearsed pieces, ranging from comic sketches to music to magic.

Recurring characters are also included, such as Mr. Know-It-All, a bespectacled maven who fields questions on "little-known facts of nature, laws of science and quirks of human nature."

Audience members are often called into the act, helping Wirth create elaborate scenes like the popular "Fantasy Island," in which volunteers live out their fantasies in loosely structured sketches featuring Wirth and other audience members.

To unlock audiences' creativity and enthusiasm, Wirth strives to create a relaxed, non-threatening environment in which "the audience member knows he's not going to look foolish."

"In many improv shows, there are a lot of laughs at the expense of the audience member on stage," Wirth said. "I try to give them the chance to succeed. In that success, everyone finds enjoyment.

"I find that people like to be able to relate to other people. Ultimately, this show becomes a group of friends performing together on stage.

"It becomes their show, not Jeff's show, which is why I call it ' With Wirth,' not ' It's Wirth.' "

What: "With Wirth."

When: Friday, Feb. 8, and Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m.

Where: Fullerton College Campus Theatre, 321 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: Exit the Orange Freeway at Chapman Avenue and go west to the college.

Wherewithal: $5 to $7.

Where to call: (714) 871-8101.

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