Monday, December 17th, 2018
Upfront Theatre Improv Comedy: Laughs for All Ages
Hilary Parker
Improv at Bellingham's Upfront Theatre with Ryan Stiles

Upfront Theatre owner Ryan Stiles (right) makes an occasional onstage appearance, but it’s often a surprise. Will he show when you’re there?

Here’s a riddle: How do you get teen and pre-teen siblings to agree on something?

Great question! Who knows?

Actually, I have found a solution: A night at the Upfront Theatre.

The Upfront Theatre is Bellingham’s home-grown improv comedy club, owned by an honest-to-goodness funny guy, Ryan Stiles. The Upfront has been entertaining ‘Hamsters since 2004.

As my children have become older, finding things to do as a family is both easier – it doesn’t have to revolve around nap time – and trickier as diverging interests and general teen-age angst comes into play. (Honestly, my kids are not bad at all, but I’m sure adults who have parented through this age range can relate.)

The Upfront Theatre in downtown Bellingham

So when I came up with the idea for a night at the Upfront, I was feeling pretty good about myself. We’d been to a BIFT (Beer, Improv, Food Truck) night at Boundary Bay last summer, so the kids had been exposed to an improv/theatresports kind of performance, but this would be little bit different: the Upfront typically presents long-form performances rather than short skits.

Upon sharing my brilliant idea with a friend, I was confronted with: “But isn’t that the Upfront a little adult for your kids?”

Fortunately, I had the answer. I knew that the earlier, 7:30 p.m., show at the Upfront is geared more toward families, and generally, the performers aim to keep their humor fun for all and at a PG or PG-13 level.

At night at the Upfront Theatre

As if to prove my point, we walked into the club to see three tables of middle-school aged boys attending the show for a birthday party. A few minutes later, a mom and her two pre-teen/early teen boys sat down behind us. Next to the birthday party sat two women who looked to be in their 70s. College students and middle-aged folks rounded out the audience. The Upfront Theatre really does offer laughs for all ages.

Munching on popcorn and sipping on sodas (there’s a full snack bar, including beer and wine for the 21+ crowd), my kids were already wearing big grins. The show hadn’t even started yet.

Kids wait for a show at the Upfront Theatre to start

Once the lights dimmed and the players took the stage, we were whisked into the world of improv storytelling, where our evening’s protagonist, dentist Max Stiltskin (name an occupation chosen by the audience), would be visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve to help him realize the error of his ways.

It’s probably apparent by now that the evening’s theme was loosely based (as improv always is) on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

The kids and I laughed at the funny twists and turns the story of “My Three Ghosts” took, but the best part for me was watching my kids enjoying themselves so fully.

Playbill for "My 3 Ghosts"

At intermission, I pointed out the Upfront offers improv classes for both youth and teens, as well as a free all ages drop-in class on the first Saturday of the month at noon. I can see some improv in our future.

After Max Stiltskin turned his life around and the house lights came up, we made our way out into the night and headed toward Mallard’s for an ice cream nightcap. We hadn’t gone more than a block when the kids suggested we go back to the Upfront Theatre again soon.

Upfront Theatre
1208 Bay St., Bellingham

Shows typically run Thursday – Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Check the Upfront’s website  for more detailed information on what is playing each day and each show time, as they vary throughout the weekend.

For more family fun ideas in the Bellingham region, see the full list of Hilary’s articles.

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About the Author:

Hilary Parker is a writer and editor living in Bellingham. She and her children love discovering all that Bellingham and Whatcom County have to offer.