June 27, 2006

Land O' Ports

I spent Sunday night in Portland, Oregon. I don’t know anybody there, but I needed to sleep somewhere, and in planning my trip I had much favoured a hotel in an actual city over a sleazy motel in a Deliverance-like Oregon backwater.

After checking in and taking a shower to wash off all the cave slime, I ventured out with the plan of exploring a little before hitting up the Comedy Sportz Portland theatre for an improv show at 7pm. Sadly, downtown Portland is a sleepy ghost town on a Sunday evening— everything was shut (even the public library!), and the four or five other people I saw were clearly delirious street people or fellow confused tourists.

I don’t mean to dump on street people, and goodness knows I would have been delirious in their position (Portland and, indeed, much of the northwest, was having a freakish heatwave over the weekend, and it was into the high 90s and even 100s for most of Sunday)— but, gosh!, there are a buttload of crazy street people in Portland, especially in comparison to its size. I got hit up for change six times in the course of an hour or two, and also passed two men enthusiastically using a wide variety of expletives to add colour to their conversations with bushes and mailboxes.

The improv show I went to was a so-called “farm team” show, meaning the performers were all players-in-training from CSz’s Improv 101 class, and it showed: they were having a lot of listening problems, most of their scenes didn’t really have a good conflict/resolution arc, and they often set their goals higher than they could reliably manage (there was one ‘What If?’ scene in particular, where the gag was ‘What if each of the characters had a different foreign accent?’— only none of them could really do the accents they chose, so it just ended up being basically the exact same scene all over again).

That said, the show was almost an hour and a half long, and it managed to hold my interest for most of the time. A few of the players had some really great energy and presence, and the format had some quirky gimmicks that made it a lot more interesting to watch (as another improviser, anyway). The whole show is set up as a competition between two teams, and they really push the sporting event theme: there’s a ref (complete with whistle and black-and-white striped shirt), there are ‘fouls’, and there’s even (this is completely true, I swear) an audience rendition of the national anthem, sung hand-over-heart and while facing an American flag, before the show starts (that got a little hairy, because I only know the first and last lines of the national anthem, and also have leftist, wannabe-Canadian scales all over my body. I think I caught them from Adrienne).

I could gladly talk at length about some of the finer points of the improv, but I fear it would be of interest to only a handful of my readers— so if you want to know more, ask me about it in person. In the meantime, I’m going to rest up for day two of my epic coastal drive.

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