“I like to paint,” said Joey Hamburger, sitting at the Spyhouse on Nicollet on Tuesday night. “Every time I paint it starts with a sheep, so I have a lot of paintings of sheep.”
Hence, Sheep Theater. “There’s a lot of effort people put into names,” said Iris Page, sitting next to Joey. “With us it was more like, well, there it is.”
Joey, Iris, and their collaborator Michael Hugh Torsch haven’t previously felt the need to give their “company” a “name,” though they’ve been making theater together for the past couple of years.
“People kept asking for a name,” said Joey, “but people would ask for it and we realized we had to have one.” They liked Sheep — which rhymes with “cheap,” which is okay. “All our tickets are ten dollars,” said Joey.
The newly named company’s first official show as Sheep Theater will be Tamburlaine, a very loose adaptation of the Christopher Marlowe novel. That show will open at Bedlam Lowertown on February 11, with a preview on February 10.
“A guy starts as a shepherd and by the end of it he rules half the universe,” explained Joey. That sounds great — but in fact it’s not, not so much. “He becomes corrupt.”
“It’s about the idea of people running mad with power,” explained Iris, “but in a light, funny way.” There are sheep, after all.
Iris is a senior at the University of Minnesota. Joey is a 2013 graduate of St. John’s University. They met when Iris was attending the College of St. Benedict; she transferred to the U, and when Joey graduated and moved to the Twin Cities, they started making shows together with a loose conglomeration of friends. Generally Joey writes, Michael directs, and Iris serves in various creative and administrative capacities on and off-stage.
In 2015, the company produced five shows — a feat they hope to repeat, on a slightly larger scale, in 2016. There was The Most Dangerous Game at Bedlam in January; Smokin’ Joe’s Comedy Bonanza or 420: A Space Odyssey (or Interstoner) at the Bryant-Lake Bowl on yep, that date; a 4th of July show called George, described by Joey as Weekend at Bernie’s meets 1776; a Minnesota Fringe Festival show called Deus Ex Machina; and finally their third annual Christmas show, which will take place at the BLB on December 23.
This year’s Christmas show, titled Christmas Storiessz III: Tiny Tim Time, features the return of private dick Dick Mahoney, who made his debut in last year’s holiday spectacular.
Joey and Iris described the plot of episode II to me, and I paraphrased it back to them as “Dick Mahoney goes on the Polar Express to save Santa. The Grinch and Frosty get involved and Santa dies, but it’s okay and there’s a happy ending.” They said yes, that was about right.
I’ve never actually been to any of the proto-Sheep productions, but when Iris invited me to Storiessz III, I was immediately interested because I’ve enjoyed the work she’s done with Hailey Colwell and Aidan Gallivan — her collaborators in Theatre Corrobora.
Sheep Theater, Joey and Iris say, takes inspiration from the loose and creative spirit of companies like Bedlam Theatre; Joey said his ideal company would be a mix of Acme Comedy Club and early Theatre de la Jeune Lune. “My goal is to open a theater where there’s a new original show every month. It would be TV theater: we’d have episodes of theater. You’d come back and there would be a new 30-minute episode every month.”
In the meantime, Joey and Iris and Michael are happy to continue making shows. There will be some repeating themes, and maybe even some repeated jokes, but Joey said he finds that recycling a laugh line or two tends to work just fine.
“People always say, ‘That’s the best show you’ve ever done,'” explained Joey, “but that’s because they don’t remember the last one.”