Something’s funny at Slocum House

Vancouver theater lightens up summer months with comedy festival

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

 

The stage at Slocum House typically goes dark in the summer, but not this July and August.

The theater is hosting its first comedy festival, featuring improvisation acts drawing inspiration from sources ranging from Shakespeare to documentarian Ken Burns to B-movies, as well as stand-up comedians, musicians and magicians.

Slocum House Theatre Company board member Rosina Busse decided to organize the festival after seeing how popular the theater’s spring stand-up comedy nights proved with audiences.

“I’m really looking forward to this,” said Busse, a Portland resident. “I’m really excited to see something going on at the theater during the summer.”

If you go

• What: Slocum House Theatre Comedy Festival, featuring stand-up, improv, music and magic.

• When: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 20, as well as 9:30 p.m. today and this Saturday.

• Where: Slocum House, 605 Esther St., Vancouver.

• Cost: $10.

• Information: http://www.slocumhousecomedy.com.

The festival began the weekend of July 8 and 9 with performances by comedians Michael Jenkins, Virginia Jones, Ron Osborne and Mark Saltveit. It continues on Friday and Saturday evenings through Aug. 20, and will showcase a number of performers from the greater Vancouver-Portland area.

Each show features two or three acts. The lineup offers a wide range of entertainment options.

“There’s sort of something for everybody,” Busse said.

In addition to producing the festival, Busse will appear with Sideburns, an improvisation troupe inspired by Ken Burns’ filmmaking style.

Many performers will appear multiple times throughout the festival with various acts. Vancouver’s Andrew Berkowitz is among those chameleons.

Berkowitz will do stand-up as part of Comedy NW and also will perform with the long-form improv acts Mystery Science Tribute Show and The Bee Word.

For his solo routines, Berkowitz focuses on finding the humor in everyday occurrences, common events such as going on vacation or to the gym or paying taxes.

Mystery Science Tribute Show is an improvised version of the classic television show “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” The team improvises a bad science-fiction movie while a few commentators make snide remarks.

“It’s basically like when you sit around in your living room making fun of bad TV,” Berkowitz said.

The Bee Word draws from spelling bees, not B-movies, for its comedy. Performers get suggestions for words to spell from the audience. Flashbacks provide insights into the characters’ lives outside of the spelling bee.

Berkowitz has performed at Slocum House before, and is excited to return.

“It’s a great chance for Vancouver audiences to see a huge range of groups and shows they may never have seen before, and it’s also a great opportunity for these groups and performers to see how fantastic the audiences are in Vancouver,” Berkowitz said. “The audiences here are very warm, welcoming and enthusiastic. It’s a great place to play.”

Those qualities should make Vancouver a good place for “About Last Night …” to debut. The two-person improv show features Vancouver resident Hadas Cassorla and Portland’s Al Zimmerman.

The show starts with the phrase “About Last Night …” and plays out as a montage of scenes delving into varied characters, situations and relationships based on an initial audience suggestion.

Cassorla may also perform as part of Mystery Science Tribute Show, alongside Berkowitz, Vancouver’s Donna Kay Yarborough and others.

Yarborough will perform a number of times throughout the festival.

The Donna Show! is her solo act. It’s a blend of storytelling, comedy and song.

She’ll also appear as part of Shakesprov, a group that improvises abridged versions of the Bard’s comedies and tragedies.

“It can take you through the highs and lows of a Shakespearean play,” Yarborough said.

Shakesprov’s show is based on audience suggestion, be it the title of a play or the name of a character.

“The play then unfolds on its own, completely improvised with a nod to Shakespearian language and devices. It’s great for audiences who both love and hate Shakespeare,” Yarborough said.

Shakespeare isn’t Yarborough’s only source of inspiration when it comes to improv. She also co-founded Sideburns with Vancouver resident Jamie Montgomery and two other people from Portland.

Yarborough and Montgomery, along with Busse, Vancouver’s Jill Headen and others, will perform with Sideburns in the comedy festival.

Sideburns players present an improvised documentary on a topic provided by the audience.

Members dress in sepia tones and create tableaux resembling old photographs. They simulate Burns’ signature panning and zooming effect by shuffling across the stage.

“That always gets a giggle,” Headen said.

Beyond stand-up and improvisation acts, the festival includes musical groups such as The Hill Dogs, a folk-rock band of teens from Newberg, Ore., and Soho Smooth, a cabaret-style music and comedy show.

There also will be acts such as Curtis Frye’s Magic of the Mind show, where he’ll quickly solve complicated math problems and sudoku puzzles; Concerto for Piano and Mime, a blend of music, pantomime, character, dance and drama; and Colonel Mustard, a murder-mystery improv act.

“Every night there’s going to be something great,” Berkowitz said. “You really can’t go wrong.”

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.