I want to tell you about a show we went to see in December. We are all great lovers of “A Christmas Carol”, a wonderfully spooky Christmas ghost story by Charles Dickens, so Grandpa Nelson got us tickets to go out and celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.
First we went to Henry’s Tavern, a restaurant on the corner of NE 12th and Burnside. This is an old brick building with high ceilings because it used to be the Henry Weinhard Brewery, where beer (and root beer, during Prohibition) was made for almost a hundred years. The character of the bricks and history made the building feel very special, and the food, wine and beer, were good, too. I had a Peanut Buster Burger, a hamburger with peanut better on it, which was surprisingly very good!
After we were full, we walked a few blocks to The Armory, a theater made out of, well, the 1891 Armory, where the Oregon National Guard used to train and store their weapons and equipment. It is now several theaters in one building.
Twist Your Dickens was almost ready to start, but before the show there was a short class on improvisational theater. Twist Your Dickens is performed by the Second City Production Company from Chicago, a group which is famous for having launched the careers of Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Steve Martin, and dozens of other comics and actors. They practice improvisation using the “Pillars of Improvisation”, developed by Viola Spolins back in the 1960s.
My favorite pillar is “Yes, and…” where, as an actor, you accept whatever thing your partner presents, for example, “Here is the rabbit you asked for” and add to it, such as, “It’s about time, the wedding is about to start!” This allows you to create a scene that is funny, fast, and unexpected. It is fun to do as a game, too. Try it with friends!
There was another unexpected element in this performance, a few people who stood on the side of the stage and performed the show in American Sign Language. Their gestures and facial expressions were wonderful to see, and as entertaining as the rest of the show.
I didn’t take any photos during the performance, because that’s just rude, but I got a few the stage and the women signing. This photo is from the show’s website.
The play follows the outline of “A Christmas Carol”. We meet Mr. Scrooge, who is greedy and hates Christmas, and who is visited by four spirits who help him realize his awful ways and become a better person.
But with improvisation, characters sometimes make up their own lines, and other characters have to accept the new information and make it work (see “Yes, and..” above.) This lead to hilarity where the actors sometimes got so tickled they couldn’t say their lines…this is one of my favorite things about improv!
The lightning-fast costume changes went off without a hitch, with the seven actors playing hundreds of characters in the 90 minute show. By the end, when Scrooge buys the giant turkey and celebrates with the Cratchit family, we were all laughing and exhausted. We made our way out of the theater, to the bus stop and home, each of us breaking into laughter as we re-played scenes in our heads.
What a wonderful anniversary!