Chances are you and the kids have never seen Charles Dickens’s timeless holiday classic, A Christmas Carol quite like this before.
That’s nothing new for the Vancouver-based Monster Theatre, which has been putting its own spin on classic material since accomplished improv artist Ryan Gladstone founded the company almost 13 years ago.
The wildly-creative Gladstone, who wrote and directed A Christmas Carol, Monster Style, has created an acclaimed theatre company that tours the country without ever using more than three actors in a production. The small cast not only helps to save the company a buck or two, but allows the performing actors — like Bruce Horak and Tara Travis, who will be playing over a 50 different characters from A Christmas Carol, to flex their ample acting muscles.
“It’s difficult to fundraise and maintain a company that has a large number of actors on the road at any given time,” said Travis, who joined Monster Theatre in 2006. “Working with a smaller budget, we’re grateful to have the skills to play all of the characters so we can actually turn that into an advantage. We get to show off our superpowers, we’re all shape shifters and we have a lot of different voices and characterizations in our back pockets, so ultimately it ends up being a bit of a skill showcase.”
Monster Theatre’s take on the Dickens classic was born out of a shorter 20-minute street show the company started in 2009, which they’ve since adapted into a longer stage version featuring puppetry, masks and outlandish physical comedy.
“Our version brings it into this world a little bit, where it’s as much about the theatre company putting on the show as it is telling the story of A Christmas Carol,” said Travis. “There are a lot of jokes about the theatre company itself and how all the actors have quit because they’ve been treated so badly by the director. There’s a lot of fun with the fluster and the fury of how we’re going to tell the story, so the (audience) gets to engage with our characters.”
One of the main draws to Monster Theatre, which also produces several adult-themed shows a year with a historical bent, is the level of interaction the audience enjoys during every performance, which can result in a completely different show each night.
“The kids get to be a part of the direction of the story. We look to them a lot for ideas about how we’re going to do things and how we’re going to tell the story,” said Travis. “Every audience teaches you something new, especially with interactive elements. We’ve had kids totally upstage us and steal the show or we’ve rewritten complete scenes on the spot.”
The improvisational aspect of the show means Travis and Horak, who plays the Scrooge-like theatre director, get to hone their performances each and every time they appear in front of an audience.
“More traditional companies go through their rehearsal process and get the show ready, open it and that is the show for as long as it runs,” said Travis. “We’re constantly adapting as we learn from our audiences and I think it’s really helped us to create some solid productions over the years.”
What’s more is youngsters lucky enough to see a Monster Theatre production are not only learning about the finer points of Victorian literature or important milestones in Canadian history, but about the nature of storytelling and adaptation along with it.
“It’s got kids engaging with the literature in a different way, really looking at the construction of story and looking at things like the hero journey, kind of big complicated ideas,” she said. “It’s incredibly rewarding, we love it so much, but at the same time there’s so much silly stuff in our shows as well for kids to enjoy.”
Check out Monster Theatre’s zany spin on a holiday classic Saturday (Dec. 22) at Millennium Place. The show kicks off at 7 p.m. for children ages five and up. There will also be a craft station for kids to enjoy outside the theatre, starting at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets are $22.50 for adults and $11.50 for children. Seniors and students pay $15, while arts council members can see the show for $17.50.
Visit www.artswhistler.com for tickets or more information.