Real life stories inspired classic ‘A Christmas Story’

It’s a story many know by heart, the one about a boy and his Christmas quest for an air rifle, despite the many naysaying adults, coonskin-capped bullies, triple-dog dares, a brother who just won’t eat and a gruff father infatuated with a prized lamp.

“A Christmas Story,” an instant American film classic following its 1983 release, comprised subplot after subplot of comical, yet relatable characters and events, superimposed on an idyllic winterland set in early 1940s Indiana. It’s since become a mainstay on television as well, running continuously on Turner Broadcasting stations every Christmas Eve since 1997.

But before the Parker family and their quaint, Midwestern town were memorialized on screen, they were the real life stories from radio actor and reluctant writer Jean Shepard.

Shepard was a professional storyteller, hosting radio programs throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s in which he told listeners unscripted stories from his “ordinary, American” life. He shared so many humorous stories about his childhood on his shows that his friend, poet and children’s author Shel Silverstein, eventually transcribed them for him, as Shepard had never thought of himself as a writer.

Silverstein and Shepard edited the transcripts until the 1966 release of “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,” a string of Shepard’s loosely autobiographical tales told from the mouth of Ralph, a fictional character who served as the collection’s narrator.

The book was an instant success with audiences and critics alike, catapulting to The New York Times bestseller list the year of its release and remaining in print ever since.

Two films spun out of the pseudo-memoir, the aforementioned cult classic and its lesser-known 1994 cousin “It Runs in the Family.” Despite the success of his novel and other writings, Shepard preferred narrating his stories live, and he returned to performing for radio until the mid-90s.

Adapted for the stage by Philip Grecian and directed by Julian Wiles, Charleston Stage and Dock Street Theatre will bring the film version to life with its return production of “A Christmas Story” this month.

“A Christmas Story” will make its weekend debut on the Dock Street stage this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Sunday performance at 5 p.m. Subsequent shows will run every Thursday through Sunday until December 20. Thursday through Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m. All performances will be held at the Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St. Tickets are $30–$67/adults; $28–$67/seniors; $25–$67/students and active military with ID. Tickets may be purchased online at www.CharlestonStage.com or at the Dock Street box office. Go to the company’s website or call the Dock Street box office at 843-577-7183 for additional information.

On paper, an interactive night of improvised comedic theater tells the story of Theatre 99’s Improv Riot series. But when words go live — lit, staged and shouting off the cuff — descriptions lose their meaning quickly.

Directed by a live audience and enacted by a half-dozen Theatre 99 performers, Improv Riot tosses performers into a joust of wit and timing, using whatever the audience hurls into their grip for material. Nearly as important as the quickness and creativity from the team members, the audience’s participation and suggestions come to life in interpreted, unscripted scenes that, when successful, no one sees coming but everyone likes where they lead.

Each performance is judged by the audience before a second set of unrestricted improv allows performers to riff freely.

Improv Riot will run this Saturday at Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St., beginning at 8 p.m. Audiences are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes early to ensure desired seating. Tickets are $12 at the box office or online at www.Etix.com. Go to www.Theatre99.com or call 843-853-6687 for additional information.