By Austin Giles
The Upfront Theatre begins another all original show. “We need you to make this show special. At certain points we’re going to need you to shout out a geographical location, a person, a place, your phone number, if you’re attractive,” the host of the evening announces to the crowd.
At the Upfront the audience witnesses something happening entirely in the moment, since the performers make it all up as they go.
“It’s theatre without a script. We have no idea what’s going to happen on stage,” said Galen Emanuele, marketing and sales director and performer at the Upfront Theater.
He’s shouting on stage and calling himself the Juicer. Come Sunday he’ll defeat his arch-nemesis, The Destroyer, pro-wrestler who swears he’ll finally end the Juicer and his side-kick, the Juice for good. The crowd laughs especially hard when the supposedly tough Destroyer laughs nasally like an elementary school nerd while talking trash. Eventually the Juicer proves to be too smart for the Destroyer, luring him close with his partner, the Juice, and then snapping his neck.
The characters, the back story and the conflict were all made up line to line between the players of the evening.
“It’s totally spontaneous creation,” said Emanuele. The crowd, having a show existing only for them; is more excitable and more involved in the show than at any typical comedy routine. It shows as they laugh the entire time and shout out suggestions, “use a Transylvanian accent!”
The Upfront’s shows run Thursday through Saturday but if you want to get a seat it’s best to get there early. They’ve sold out their Thursday night show, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, for the last month.
Located with the water in view on Bay St. in downtown Bellingham, The Upfront is a landmark unique to the city. The 100 seat venue is dimly lit and displays shots of its performers on the walls.
Each night’s cast is picked from the Upfront’s 21 main performers. Auditions are held twice a year to see who makes the cut. Students of improv are their main applicants especially students from their own classes. They offer four classes that range from amateur to advanced. Each class lasts eight weeks and for students it’s a discounted $125.
The cast of the night could be doing anything from the wide variety of improvisation. Long form improv takes the scene further; they develop characters through the scene and continue it much further and more in depth. Short form is what most are familiar with, due in part to “Who’s Line Is It Anyway,” the show that popularized short form improve, games and short scenarios.
Ryan Stiles, one of the main performers on “Who’s Line”, was the founder of the Upfront Theatre in 2004 and owns it today. “He’ll pop in and perform with us from time to time and it’s a lot of fun,” said Emanuele.
There are a number of ways to get involved at the Upfront by volunteering. They need tickets torn and tech volunteers and you get to see that night’s show for free. The Upfront also gives away two tickets a week through Facebook.
“I need an adjective,” the host requests. “HAIRY,” comes from someone in the audience. “I need an animal!”
“A ZEBRA,” comes from someone else in the audience. From those suggestions an entire story of a crime-fighting zebra is bred and as ridiculous as it all is, “We’re all about making people laugh,” says Emanuele.