O Christmas Tea sparks childlike joy in Northwest holiday tour

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Photo by Thaddeus Hink
Photo by Thaddeus Hink

Theater, at its best, refrains from simply telling a story; it brings the audience into a different kind of reality. Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles — known by their stage names "James and Jamesy," respectively — use their personas to invite audience members to world-build with them: the duo's Christmas show, O Christmas Tea, showcases their comedic talents as they navigate a world that is literally flooding with tea.

The pair, based in Vancouver, BC, are performing at the Edmonds Center for the Arts and the Neptune Theatre in Seattle on Nov. 29 and 30, respectively, at 7:30 p.m. (Both venues require vaccination for entry to events. Those unable to get vaccinated must present proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test.)

The shows are part of a 23-city tour, which Malkin and Knowles have been eagerly awaiting after over 20 months of a pandemic-induced live-theater stalemate.

Photo by Thaddeus Hink  

As performers, Malkin and Knowles strive to embody the childlike spirit of the physical comedians, British comedians, and clowns that shaped their formative years in the theater industry. Their adoption of the names "James and Jamesy" was as organic and spontaneous as the interactive audience energy they bring about in their shows.

"We worked with a group of physical comedians and clowns in Vancouver a decade ago," explained Malkin. "Alastair happened upon this character that the other people in the room wanted him to explore more. That character had a peculiar physicality and happened to speak in an English accent." The group also wanted Malkin to improvise with Knowles, continuously asking him to switch his character impulses. Malkin "got frustrated, continuing to go back to default, stock characters," he said. "As soon as I stopped and found nothing," the group "said 'that one,' and we improvised together and it was sweet and fun."

The two performers continued to capitalize off the positive energy that came from their discovery of James and Jamesy as characters, turning the duo into a performance tool that is representative of the kind of theater they enjoy. As Malkin explained, "Alastair, as the character Jamesy, is inaccessible to the audience because of how eccentric he is. My character is an interlocutor — they get interested in Jamesy because of my fondness for him."

Photo by Thaddeus Hink  

Collaborative comedy
In building a relationship with each other, they also build one with the audience, generating an immersive theater experience that they hope brings out everyone's childlike sense of wonder and joy.

"Many people want to play," said Knowles. "That is the philosophy that we approach theater with. We create shows to come together in a shared experience. People become part of the show. Audience members play characters up on stage, in costume. It might be daunting, but it is also really quite playful, which is at the heart of it."

O Christmas Tea is a particularly special show, as it infuses James and Jamesy's knack for collaborative comedy with the spirit of the holiday season. "Our first shows weren't Christmas themed, but at the heart of our shows, there has always been imagination, friendship, and play. Christmas, to us, is about that in many senses," said Malkin. People "make an effort to see each other. They travel and take time off from work. In this time off, you get to build memories."

And the audience participation that is vital to their show's success is only recently possible. While some performers shifted to Zoom, Knowles and Malkin were stuck waiting out the pandemic in uncertainty. "The style of creation that we do is largely about audience engagement," Knowles explained. "We do not have an online product that is a substitute. There was a big emotional reaction when pandemic restrictions were loosening."

The two extend their "huge gratitude to all of the people that have done the work in order to make [performance] possible. Whether that is vaccine research, healthcare, or daily life — we are so grateful."

"And to all of the people who have gotten the vaccine," they added.

Tickets to O Christmas Tea can be purchased at https://www.jamesandjamesy.com/o-christmas-tea/.