The hyper school children on a field trip, the grumpy octogenarian, the slowpoke dumping the contents of her piggy bank into the fare box and the teenager singing along to the white noise pouring out of his headphones for all to hear - if you’ve taken the bus, you’ve probably taken a seat next to at least one of them.
And though at the time it might make one long for the driver to just get them to their stop already, it all adds up to the makings of a raucous, slice-of-life comedy that’s more fun to watch than live.
The trials and tribulations of public transit riders are what fuels the laughs in The Number 14, a sketch comedy performance that rolls back into Brock on Jan. 31 for its 20th anniversary.
Described as “a hybrid of commedia dell’arte and The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live and Cirque du Soleil” by one Vancouver reviewer, The Number 14 stars just six actors playing 60 characters aboard a city bus.
The Number 14 has been making stops on stages throughout the world since it first left the station at Vancouver’s Axis Theatre Company 20 years ago, featuring a cast of absurd, hilarious characters.
Mostly, though, they’re also easy to relate to, noted director Wayne Sprecht. “This is what we hear from the audience: ‘Hey, how come you’re doing me up there?’ or … ‘I know someone who’s just like that,” said Sprecht, who suffers
from motion sickness on the bus.
It’s that personal connection with audience members that has given The Number 14 so much mileage, he added.
Over the years, the content has been tweaked with the addition of new actors and new perspectives brought along for the ride. Still, there are the usual suspects in every performance - much like there are on every commute - like the “acrobatic lady” who gets tossed around the bus, Sprecht said.
And that’s just how the audience wants it, particularly because many are repeat viewers, having taken a ride on The Number 14 numerous times over the years.
“There are some classic routines, I just can’t mess with them at all. The audience will get mad at me,” he explained.
It’s not just Vancouverites who love it, though. The Number 14 got a New York Drama Desk nomination in 1998, earned four Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards and garnered a Dora Mavor Moore nomination during its travels.
But for those thinking they’ll just catch The Number 14 the next time, know this: Axis Theatre will be putting the brakes on the performance once its 20th anniversary tour wraps up in Montreal this May.
“It felt right,” Sprecht said about the decision to end the play’s run. “It just comes down to going with your instincts and moving on.”
Bus fare is discounted for children and students. But be sure catch it now, before it rolls out of town forever. Tickets are available for $20 for all Brock faculty and staff.