by Arthur Smid
The players leap up, taking the stage to ask for a suggestion from the audience. “Name one place where you go to get things done!” A barber shop. Garage. Mardi Gras. The atmosphere in the room is collaborative. The audience isn’t waiting for the comic to fail, or waiting for a laugh; they’re waiting to see what happens next. The expansive room lofts upward forty feet with ceiling fans slowly turning. A simple proscenium arch sits on a plywood stage so new you can smell the cut wood. Mardi Gras starts with one player stepping forward to say he has really good candy – he’s throwing candy from the float. The players respond to each other by affirming and adding on; it’s the “yes and” aesthetic that builds character and story into long-form improvisational theater, and it gets things done.
“Stacey and I came here from Chicago about a year ago with the idea to open a comedy theater,” Bob Ladewig, one of the co-owners, explains the theater’s origins. Stacy Hallal started studying comedy in 1999 at the Brody theater in Portland. She began touring with another woman performing as “All Jane No Dick” and traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada on the festival circuit. The bulk of the touring happened in 2003 when she would be home an average of five days a month. Most of the festivals they had to pay to play, so Stacey made her living teaching improv in corporate settings to help business people become better storytellers. This had her flying from one city to teach, another to play, and then back home for a brief spell. She met a lot of improvisers; and in Chicago, Stacey met Bob, and they decided to come to Portland.
Bob points out the loft above the bar where he tapes the shows. “We’re going to build stairs, and a rail on the edge to have balcony seating. That’s phase two. There’ll be a classroom up there.” Bob and Stacey teach improv and comedy writing classes during the day as part of Village Home, an educational resource for home-schooled kids. “We teach listening and cooperation skills,” Stacey explains, “-what I wish I had as a kid. It would have made me a happier kid.” They teach kids between the ages of six and eleven, and present a play written entirely by them and performed by adults every Sunday at 2 pm. “We try to make it as close to the story the kids wrote as possible.” The name for the show, “Some Toilet Water”, came from a writing contest: what is blue? “One kid answered, ‘It’s some toilet water.’ And we were like, oh, that’s a perfect name for the show.”
The house is full when the curtains close and the lights go down on Friday. The show, “Will Work For Change”, starts at 7:30 with all six players singing on a political note: “We need this change.” The live piano accompaniment by David Saffert moves with the action and gives scene transitions. One player speaks until another player walks up repeating the last words, continuing his thought while the other steps back. The players fade in and out, finishing each others’ thoughts in waves of dramatic moments.
At 9:30, Stacey welcomes everyone back to their seats for an improvised musical where the only constant is mayor elect Sam Adams; he appears ex machina at the end of every show and solves all the problems created by the characters. It’s only an improviser playing Sam Adams, but they did invite the real Sam Adams; and hopefully he will come; or come play.
Curious Comedy Productions is a non-profit and relies on grants and donations and people like you coming. The theater is just north of Alberta at 5225 Martin Luther King Blvd, located in the new commercial-condo units called Vanport Square. There’s shows Thursday through Sunday; “Cheap Date” is every Thursday for five dollars, longform improv performed by different house teams; every Friday and Saturday, there’s a 7:30 show of sketch comedy followed by a 9:30 improvised musical. General admission is $12 dollars. Seniors/students get in for $10 dollars. Sunday at 2 pm, enjoy a show written by kids and performed by adults: $10 general, $8 seniors/students, $6 kids. Check their website for more info: http://www.curiouscomedy.org; come by and experience a new theater that is helping Portland to have a laugh no matter what the weather.