Company Member since 1987
Coach since 1987
The SF Weekly describes Rafe Chase as one of “the most celebrated figures on the San Francisco improv scene today.” In 1978, after only three months of classes, Rafe began improvising professionally with Flash Family at the Old Spaghetti Factory in North Beach. He left three years later to create the group Riot Squad, which performed both improv and sketch comedy. He served as both the director and head writer.
Joining BATS Improv in 1987 opened up a world of new colleagues and new possibilities. In 1988, while continuing to work with BATS, Rafe became a member of Pulp Playhouse, which performed at the Eureka Theater doing improvised stories in the style of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s.
The next year he formed Improv Theater, which performed for several seasons at the ACT Playroom. With Rafe as the artistic director, the group would pioneer the exploration and performance of longform improv. He was a member of True Fiction Magazine, from its inception in 1994 to 1999, and is still a frequent guest with the group. In 2007, he teamed with Gerri Lawlor for a series of two-person improv shows.
Currently, in addition to the BATS Improv Main Stage Company, Rafe is a member of the critically acclaimed three-man group, 3 FOR ALL. The trio (Chase, Stephen Kearin, and Tim Orr) have wowed audiences in cities across the US and Europe.
In his exploration of longform improv, Rafe has been a pioneer of genre-driven longform and has created several formats, including Split Decision and Double Feature™, which are performed regularly at BATS Improv.
Rafe has taught improv for various institutions in addition to BATS, including Stanford University and ACT, as well as private classes. He has also worked extensively with young people and taught improv at Berkwood Hedge Elementary in Berkeley for three years, to students from 5 to 11.
Rafe’s work as a writer includes sketch comedy, lyrics, articles on show business history, and the recently self-published comic poem, “Alice Is . . . ” He also wrote the one-person show Mysterious Ways for Regina Saisi, his colleague since 1979.
Q & A
What do you like about improv?
You get to be the actor and the writer at the same time. You have to call on everything you’ve ever learned, seen, or done. And in those instances when you have to do something and haven’t got a clue, like flying a jet or performing surgery, you just make it up. That wouldn’t work in real life.
Which do you like better, short scene work or longform?
I love them both. I enjoy the time pressure on scene work. You have to establish the basics of who you are, where you are, and what is going on ASAP, and you only have a few minutes to navigate your way to an end. In longform, the player gets to sink into character and develop a much more complex narrative. They are both so much fun, especially since I work with such talented improvisers.
What about improv games?
It depends on the game. Some just seem like parlor tricks or you’re just jumping through hoops, but the best of the games, like “dubbing” or “new choice,” become a new and exciting challenge each time you do them.
Any advice for new improvisers?
Connect with your fellow player, take your time, and create some kind of space object environment to exist in. And, as Gerri Lawlor says, “pretend.”
What do you mean by “pretend”?
Pretend what you’re doing is really happening to your character, and let the stakes be high.