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On the far side of the Triangle, there is a Christmas musical going on that has been playing for two weeks every year for 30 years. But in this little corner of the world, a Christmas musical was played Saturday that has never been played before. And the next time it plays, it will be very different from this last time.
That presents a pretty good conundrum until you realize that the show in question is presented by the Transactors Improv Co. and that it is based on audience suggestions. So every single time you go to see what they have titled Insert Appropriate Holiday Greeting Here, it will be a different show from the last time you saw it. By definition. And the cast will be different, and the staging will be different, and, well, you get the idea. And while there were only about a hundred in the audience to view the premiere of this new work, we look forward to seeing the next one because we will not see the same show twice.
At The ArtsCenter Saturday, the cast was led by Greg Hohn, who came up with the idea for the second half of the show after having lunch with renowned author and local professor, Max Steele. Steele told Hohn that he was living out his father’s life fantasy, and Hohn’s mind went, “hmmm, that sounds like a good idea for a…” “Living Out Our Parents’ Fantasies” is the result, a “long form” improv that combines several suggestions of “fantasies” our parents might have had, suggested, of course, by us, the viewers. This particular performance lasted fifty minutes, incorporating the fantasies our parents might have had, including “King for a Day,” “Dating a Super Model,” acting out the fantastical game of “Dungeons and Dragons,” “Being a Musical Prodigy,” and the ever-popular “I Want to Be a Drum Majorette.”
For the first half of the show, we were treated to a series of eight “short form,” “discrete” (meaning unattached from each other) scenes based on our suggestions of holiday themes. Hohn and Mike Lewis, the Transactors’ musical director and pianist, combined their talents with those of four other troupe members to tickle our funny bones with holly and tinsel. The highs and lows of the holidays were acted out in scenes like “Visiting the In-Laws,” “Figgie Pudding,” “Christmas Movies,” and “A Holiday Annoyance.” This group decided that one real annoyance of the season is sleigh bells (also read, jingle bells, Santa bells, or, in this case, reindeer bells). This one suggestion brought about a pretty amazing scene between two men who might have been Santa Claus (Hohn) and his Chief Elf (Steve Scott), which brought about three songs and a grand finale by the entire troupe.
“Visiting the In-Laws” had daughter and new husband (Jill Greeson and Steven Warnock) coming to visit her curmudgeon Dad and Mom. “Figgie Pudding” had The Italian Don (Scott) pitted against his Holiday Host (Joe Brack) as the two tried to keep from admitting that neither one of them knew what the deuce “Figgie Pudding” really was. And “Christmas Movies” presented Scott and Warnock as two local cable-TV hosts from Dubuque in their own “Movie Review” show, as they reviewed three films we gave them: “Home Alone,” “White Christmas,” and Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch.” The rest of the cast ably assisted in creating the film clips that were “shown” from each film.
What is to be loved from the idea of improv, and what the Transactors are superb at, is the perfect moment that is created by two or more fast-acting minds on-stage. Take the moment that Hohn, as he practiced for the Drum Majorette competition, made such a gaga face that he cracked up Joe Brack, as his baseball coach, and even though Brack found it impossible to wipe the smirk off his face, the two together made the scene continue to work. Or try out the moment when four guys meet in the woods around a campfire to act out some medieval dragon-slaying, only to find that Heidi Klum is crashing their party.
Adding his own particular talents to the cast onstage was Mike Beard, technical guru for the company for many years, who provided a technically advanced lighting array that added greatly to the show. Music, sound cues, and even background vocals were provided at various stages throughout the show from members of the cast who were not in a scene, from an onstage mike directly behind the piano. And Lewis, his back to the audience, allowed us to see as well as hear his tickling of the ivories as he provided an undercurrent of music throughout the whole show.
There are two things that are readily obvious from attending a Transactors show. The first is, you are going to have a very good time — and if you don’t laugh, it’s nobody’s fault but your own. The other is that the folks in Transactors will stay acute long into their old age, because the work they are doing in presenting these lovely shows keeps their minds razor-sharp.
Transactors Improv Co.: http://transactors.org/. The ArtsCenter: http://artscenterlive.org/ [inactive 1/07].
by Robert W. McDowell
Insert Appropriate Holiday Greeting Here (Transactors Improv Co., p.m. Dec. 11 at The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, NC) is another zany exercise in improvisational theater, with music, based upon audience suggestions. Director Greg Hohn says, the show will include a series of short scenes, plus “Living Out Our Parents’ Fantasies,” a long-form improvisation based on a concept suggested by Triangle author Max Steele. “What better gift to give your parents, whether they’re alive or dead, than to have their secret dreams come to life,” writes Hohn. “Maybe Dad can finally be a member of the Rat Pack and Mom can at last be a cowgirl.” He adds, “The entire performance will take an irreverent and occasionally poignant view of the holidays and what they mean to us individually and as a society. It won’t be saccharine,” Hohn promises, “but it might get a little sweet at times.” In addition to Hohn, the show’s cast will include Joe Brack, Jill Greeson, Steve Scott, and Steven Warnock. Pianist Mark Lewis will provide musical accompaniment, and Mike Beard will improvise technical effects. For more information about Transactors Improv Co., visit http://transactors.org/. For more information about this performance, visit http://artscenterlive.org/ [inactive 1/07]. For tickets, telephone 919/929-2787.