The era is the 1950s at Christmastime. But all other details of a unique live show remain unknown to both the audience and the cast until showtime.
Miracle on Paper Street, put on by Paper Street Theatre, is a fully improvised Christmas play. Each time it is performed it is a completely different play, because it is the audience of the night that chooses the name of the play just moments before the curtain rises. The only thing everyone know is that it will be set in the 1950s.
“I thought it would be fun to do a throwback to those old 1950s Christmas classics . . . like Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life,” said Dave Morris, director of Paper Street Theatre. “The beauty of working in improvisation is that we can do anything. Any title that an audience member can imagine . . . [we can] make it feel like a 1950s Christmas movie.”
The only prop on stage is a lamp post that can be turned on or off, and the only costumes they have are 1950s suits and dresses.
Despite not being able to rehearse specifically for the shows, Morris said the group spent two months preparing.
“We start with our research period where . . . we watched a lot of movies together and talked about what we noticed and what we saw, how it sounded, how it looked and what the themes were in all of these movies and where we should be looking for themes in our work.”
Since they do not know what characters they will be playing, Morris said they focus on the style and themes of what they are trying to achieve.
“We work on improvising scenes that have that warm Christmas feeling,” he said. “We know the story will be something about the joy and wonder and happiness of Christmas, but we don’t know any of the plot points, which is the fun part.”
Many of the 10 cast members have been working together at Paper Street Theatre for the past four years, and Morris said the entire cast is comfortable improvising together.
“The first rule of improv is to say yes. Whatever your partner does, you watch and you listen and you stay aware of what they’re doing, and then you accept what they’re doing as truth,” said Morris. “With our company, we’ve been working together and working on those skills for so long, that accepting is second nature.”
Morris said the uncertainty of an improv show is what makes it exciting and fun for both the audience and the cast.
“The audience and the performers are in the same boat the whole time.”
Miracle on Paper Street shows are on Dec. 17, 18, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 20 at 2:30 p.m. at Intrepid Theatre Club, 1609 Blanshard St. Tickets are $15 for the evening shows and can be purchased at paperstreettheatre.ca. Tickets for the matinee show are $20 for a family of four and can only be purchased at the door.