Arts and Entertainment

Poulsbo's Portable Reality time travels to Old West

The Jewel Box Theatre
The Jewel Box Theatre's Portable Reality Show will put on a fully improvised western musical this Friday and Saturday night.
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo

It was a time when a man had six votes to cast — one for each bullet in the chamber of his gun. The powerful ruled with a lead fist and those who couldn’t stand the heat met an early reckoning, or so the legends go.

The Portable Reality Show will kick up some dust as they put on “The Man from Dogfish Creek,” a fully improvised western musical at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at the Jewel Box. Singing cowboys à la Gene Autry and Roy Rogers will take the stage in the kind of show where a cuss is not a verb, but a noun.

“We’re not making fun of the genre, we’re trying to honor it,” said troupe director and player Todd Erler.

During a recent rehearsal, six of Portable Reality’s regular players and guest actor Paul Festag staged a practice show — one which, like chalk in the rain, would be gone with the end of the session, as improvisation by nature calls for an all-new approach each time they come together.

“There’s no real magic left in this world. But improv, that’s real magic,” Erler said.

During rehearsal they created a story about faith, capitalism and family — and the kind of danger for which the wild west was known: There was a bar fight, a kidnapping and a spittin’ mean adversary. Sandi Spellman proved to be Queen of the Saloon Song, and gave a rip-roaring adaptation of a Bible-quoting prairie housewife, managing to rhyme cactus with taxes during a tuneful lament.

Musician Rupert Kettle made music for some soulful singing on the range — each note and melody of the off-the-cuff variety.

Because there is no script for their performances, rehearsals aren’t about lines or stage blocking, but the ability to focus and listen to one another.

“The best shows are the ones where I feel like all I did was grab onto the story and ride it like an out-of-control train,” Erler said.

The Portable Reality Show has been acting together for five years, and many of its players have decades of improv experience.

It’s a team sport that requires players to react moment-to-moment, and let go of the inhibitions of life off-stage.

Erler explained it’s a little like sitting next to an odd character on a bus, perhaps someone who’s talking to themselves or spouting theories about alien life, and choosing whether to engage with them or look the other direction.

“You train yourself to do the things onstage that you’re not allowed to do in real life,” Erler said. “These social norms are packed very tightly inside of us, so we have to unpack them a little bit.”

Improv is known for garnering laughs, but players don’t act with that in mind. Instead, telling the story is priority, Erler said. Funny happens when something is surprising, or even when an actor makes a mistake — which goes to prove there are no mistakes in improv, he added.

The group has one additional show this season, an on-the-spot Shakespearian play, scheduled for April 30 and May 1.

See the Portable Reality Show’s western musical “The Man From Dogfish Creek” March 5 and 6 at the Jewel Box Theatre, 225 Iverson Street in Poulsbo. Tickets are $10 at the door, $8 online at Learn more about the Portable Reality Show at

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