It was probably a dark and stormy night. Or at least a cold one. And make that Victorian London. The rest is up to you.
In “An Unscripted Carol,” the audience suggest the details, and the terrifically talented and ever-amusing members of L.A.’s Impro Theatre make up (i.e., improvise) a full-length play on the spot, “with all the bells and whistles — set, props, costumes and score — of a pre-rehearsed play,” says director Brian Lohmann, who also performs.
“We’re writing the play on our feet as we go; it’s kind of like a multi-headed playwright!”
This isn’t “A Christmas Carol.” It’s more like “a Dickens holiday show,” says Lohmann, “with themes of cruelty and kindness, redemption, darkness giving way to light, all in a balance of comedy and drama.”
The audience is asked to suggest something that they love about the holidays and an object that might have existed during Dickens’ time. And the troupe runs with that.
“We want to get our hero into as much trouble as possible,” explains Lohmann. “So we’ve been doing our research and preparation, reading ‘Oliver Twist,’ “Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘The Pickwick Papers.’
“We’re breaking down Dickens’ voice into many voices. Anyone can pick up the narration at any time. Somebody might step forward and say, ‘There was a gnarled tree hanging over the cemetery.’ And someone else will either begin the action or pick up the narrative. It’s a novel, so we get to be quite epic!
“The challenge is to have the narration flow, and to determine how much description there should be, and how much action. There was a bit of social commentary in Dickens, and social criticism. We try to have all these voices available to us. He does get political, and we can, too.
“The times we’re living in have some similarities to Dickens’ time: Abundance and Want, for example, and how much room is there for Generosity. There’s also magic in Dickens, so that gives us license to do some supernatural things.”
There are no characters directly from Dickens, though there might be a crotchety, miserly, Scrooge-like character, and a waif or ghost. Basically, the characters are archetypes, created by six skilled actor/improvisers “working on the edge of panic, at the top of their game, taking risks but making it look effortless.”
Impro Theatre, which performs about 100 shows annually, has been coming to North Coast Rep for three years, presenting a range of ‘Unscripted’ productions (Tennessee Williams, Anton Chekhov, Stephen Sondheim, and others), all outstanding, imaginative and often hilarious.
“North Coast audiences are great,” says Lohmann. “There’s a terrific cross-section of young and old. The community really comes out. Families don’t come as much in Hollywood. In San Diego, we get to give kids exposure to great literature. We’re in the best Book Club in the world! We get to read the books and then act out a version of them. Great fun for actors and audiences. And there’s the great feeling that you’re seeing something that’s only going to happen once. No two shows are ever alike. You see it, and then it’s gone. Come back another night and it’ll be completely different.”
“An Unscripted Carol” runs 7:30pm, December 20-21 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
Tickets ($15-20) are available at 858-481-1055 or www.northcoastrep.org
IMPRO THEATRE will be back at North Coast Rep in the spring with “The Western Unscripted” (March 7), “Tennessee Williams Unscripted” (May 2) and “The Twilight Zone Unscripted” (June 13).