An Improvised Christmas Carol – A Review

I went to see the opening night of ACT’s production of An Improvised Christmas Carol, which played three evenings this past December at The Guild in Charlottetown.

It’s a long-form improv show that takes the iconic moments and plot of Dickens’ A Christmas Story and makes ad-hoc changes based on suggestions from the audience. The force behind this production is John Mazerolle who, according to his program bio, has been involved in similar productions in other parts of the world.

He’s brought together a troupe of performers who, as far as I can tell, as far as improv goes, are relatively new to the form. Noah Nazim, who played Scrooge, seemed the most polished, most comfortable of the on-stage performing crew. This was a good thing, as he had, by far, the most work to do, always on stage, basically as the straight man, needing to justify the audience suggested oddities of the other characters. A tough sludge at times, Noah handled it all very well and kept the energy and story moving forward. Nason Scribner was impressive at times with his object work (miming the use of imaginary objects) and also appeared fairly comfortable on the stage.

Others of note were Sophie MacInnis and Darlene Lund. Both impressed with their ability to surprise me with their willingness to jump out of the box and find interesting ways to present themselves. Darlene is, I assume, a natural comic and quick wit, and Sophie shows real promise if she chooses to continue in the world of improv. Great instincts. Johnny Novak played his character choice well, but the character was a bit of an odd choice, one that I suspect may have been pre-planned? Others in the cast were enjoyable enough, but hampered by their lack of improv experience, I’d say. Yet all had at least their moment where they shone.

It was a mostly entertaining evening, but I did have issues with the format. Basically, a narrator (Mazerolle) reads from a script and every so often alters the story from the traditional track and introduces an alternate track which comes from an audience suggestion. Basically, it’s MadLibs for the stage. For instance, the night I was there, Scrooge and Cratchitt’s business was a used-car lot. A perfectly good suggestion, and ably handled by the players.

But my issue with the format is two-fold. First-fold is that the players know, I’m sure, that at *this* point, there’ll be an audience suggestion that they’ll need to deal with. They know, I’m sure, where all of these points come, and can sort of prepare themselves for them all.

Second-fold, there is a large amount of scripted story, which forces the production to an inevitable conclusion, and the element of improvising becomes less exciting (for me, anyway). In short, too much reciting of the story by the narrator, and not enough improvising by the performers. The format forces the players to always return to the pre-fabricated, already-known plot.

I’d have been much more interested and excited if they allowed themselves to use the story of Scrooge as a jumping off point and really committed to going wherever the improv and suggestions took them that night. Maybe, as a new troupe, with so many rookie performers, they didn’t feel ready to take that (admittedly) scary leap.

Also, from the brief moments he jumped onto stage from the narrator role and interacted and improvised with the others, it seems Mazerolle has confidence and ability as improviser. It was an odd choice, perhaps, to have the most experienced performer removed from the opportunity to improvise.

But one shouldn’t criticize a show for not being what one wants it to be. As it was, I didn’t care for the too-structured format, and the skill of the improvising was, for the most part, raw.

I’m thrilled these brave souls got together and put on this show. I hope they continue to put on many more shows and get more and more comfortable and confident in improvising.

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