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!” one of the actors shouts.
“A barber shop,” one audience member answers.
“A garage,” shouts another.
“Mardi Gras,” says a third.
The atmosphere in the room is collaborative. The audience isn’t waiting for the comic to fail or for a laugh; they’re waiting to see what happens next. The large room at Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., features a 40-foot-high ceiling where fans slowly turn. A simple proscenium arch sits on a plywood stage so new you can smell the freshly cut wood.
One player picks up the Mardi Gras theme by stepping forward to say he has really good candy while pretending to throw some from a pretend float. The players respond to each other, building the characters and storyline, creating a form of improvisational theater with lots of humor thrown in.
“Stacey and I came here from Chicago about a year ago with the idea to open a comedy theater,” says Bob Ladewig, one of the co-owners of the theater.
Stacey Hallal started studying comedy in 1999 at the Brody Theater in Portland. She then began touring in “All Jane, No Dick,” a show that was performed throughout the United States and Canada. At most of the festivals Hallal took part in, she and the other players had to pay to perform so, to make a living, Hallal taught improv in corporate settings to help business people become better storytellers. Along the way, she met a lot of improvisers, including Ladewig. Together, they decided to move to Portland.
Curious Comedy Theater is a work in progress.
“We’re going to build stairs and a rail on the edge to have balcony seating,” says Ladewig, while pointing to the loft above the bar where he tapes the shows. “That’s phase two. There’ll be a classroom up there.”
He and Hallal 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,” Hallal says, “which is something I wish I had as a kid. It would have made me a happier kid.”
Hallal and Ladewig teach children six to eleven years old and present a play written entirely by the children and performed by adults every Sunday at 2 p.m. The goal is to make the performance as close to what the children wrote as possible. The name for the show, “Some Toilet Water,” came from a writing contest during which the children were asked, “What is blue?” One child answered, “It’s some toilet water,” and the name for the show was born.
On a recent Friday night, the house is full when the curtains close and the lights go down at 7:30 p.m. The show, “Will Work for Change,” starts with six players singing a political song that includes the line, “We need this change.” The live piano accompaniment by David Saffert moves with the action and provides scene transitions. One player speaks until another player walks up while repeating the last words spoken and taking over. The players fade in and out, finishing each others’ thoughts. At 9:30 p.m., Hallal welcomes everyone back for an improvised musical.
Curious Comedy Productions, a non-profit that relies on grants and donations and public attendance, is located at 5225 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., in Vanport Square. Shows are held Thursday through Sunday. The “Cheap Date” show, held every Thursday for $5, features long-form improv performed by different house teams. Every Friday and Saturday, there’s a 7:30 p.m. sketch comedy show followed by an improvised musical at 9:30 p.m. For those shows, general admission is $12; and seniors and students are admitted for $10. On Sundays at 2 p.m., the “Some Toilet Water” show written by kids is performed by adults. Cost for that show is $10, $8 for seniors and students and $6 for children.
For more information: www.curious comedy.org.