By Kirsten Johnson | February 24, 2020.
An over-sized, purple dice tumbles down the stairs at Black Box Theatre Feb. 22, landing face up on one word: ecstatic.
UP North Players cast member Chris Wong reacts with a grin and begins jumping up and down — emulating a child — as audience members giggle.
“Why are you jumping around?” inquires fellow UP North player Kendall Collins, who was also selected via a dice roll to perform in the scene with Wong.
The two proceed to pinky swear on stage as they discuss Collins’ “sister,” a complicated plot twist that developed earlier in the show.
Welcome to “Roll of the Dice,” a new improv comedy show which debuted at Edmonds Community College’s Black Box Theatre this past weekend. The show is performed by the UP North Players, the resident improv troupe of the theater. The show will continue to run each Saturday until March 21.
The show follows a long-form improv format called French Braid, where scenes are woven together, said Jen Matthews, managing artistic director of the Black Box Theatre.
It is unique from other improv shows in that audience suggestions come from the dice and players use dice rolls to determine the elements of their scenes. Matthews said she first was inspired to use the dice idea for a show after looking at dice during a routine trip to Fred Meyer.
“I think improv for me is really cathartic and healing,” Matthews said. “You are saying ‘yes’ to opportunity and possibility. When we do improv, we learn how to overcome obstacles in our real life — because when I say ‘yes’ to something, it may not be the answer I expected but I might find different ways around it. So when people come to see this show, they will get a little taste of that.”
The players are each “given obstacles on stage, something to overcome, and when they overcome it, we come to some sort of resolution which may not have been where we intended on going in the first place, but it ends up being a resolution that we can live with,” Matthews added. “There are different ways to get outcomes that everyone can be successful with and I think that’s what this show teaches.”
During the Feb. 22 show, cast members kicked things off by acting out scenes using the noun “carburetor” and the verb “cook” — the first two dice rolls. Things quickly evolved as additional words were added to the mix — “bathroom” and “scared” among them — and soon, the plot became a bit messy as it involved a teenage love triangle, a broken neck and a murder. The show ended with Collins’ “sister” being given a franchise business.
“There are choices that all improvisers make (when given suggestions) which is, ‘Do I take what I’m getting literal? Or do I find a way to translate it into something that’s going to be more metaphorical or bring more depth to the scene?’” said Oliver Bay, one of the UP North cast members who performed Feb. 22. “Sometimes, you do end up with a more monkey wrench of a suggestion and then you really rely on your fellow performers to come up with a solution that the audience will enjoy. (Roll of the Dice) in particular (exemplifies that) in that it’s partially relying on the audience but it’s also relying on dumb luck for our suggestions, so it’s really good practice for us as improvisers to go ‘OK, we’ve taken a hard twist here, how are we going to bring it back?’”
Bay and the other nine players who are part of the Roll of the Dice production began rehearsing about a month ago. They are among 20 players in the UP North improv troupe in total.
The troupe performs two shows each Saturday from about September to April. Cast members all reside between King County and Snohomish County. Some are students and alums of Edmonds CC while others are community members. The troupe has performed weekly for the past eight years and has since created seven different shows.
The troupe “is one of those ways we can bring actors and performers in here and then create shows that people can come to see,” Matthews said. “It just shows the community a tiny bit of what Edmonds Community College has to offer.”
For cast member Anna Burke, a University of Washington theater student who lives in Mill Creek, the troupe provides an opportunity to perform improv closer to home in a community where it’s “really blossoming” as opposed to “already established.”
Burke said that community members who attend Roll of the Dice will get a chance to see improv uniquely — as “a way of telling stories.”
“Improv has a reputation of being something that is primarily focused on comedy because of how it’s been marketed and presented to the world,” Burke said. “So most people see improv and think short form or comedy. But I think this is really an opportunity to let improv stretch its theatrical moments and be focused on not only comedy, but telling a story and engaging with all sides of the theatrical dice, if you will.”
If you go:
Roll of the Dice runs Saturdays until March 21. The show begins at 8:35 p.m. at Black Box Theatre at Edmonds Community College. Tickets are $11 presale, $13 at the door and $9 for students and seniors.
UP North Players also are performing an improv comedy competition each Saturday called “Slam Dunk.” It begins at 7 p.m. and runs until March 28 at Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $11 presale, $13 at the door and $9 for students and seniors. For tickets and information about either show, call 425-640-1448 or visit blackboxedcc.org/up-north-players.