What to see at Improvaganza: thoughts from sampler night

Dark Side of the Room at Improvaganza 2018. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Improvaganza is back — and with it the chance to be with people, onstage and off- who are making it up as they go along. 

Rapid Fire Theatre’s 18th annual international extravaganza, which assembles top improv and sketch comedy acts from around the world (and match-makes them when they get here) opened its 10-day run Wednesday night with a sampler show of excerpts. 

So here I am, back to suggest some possibilities for your #GANZA 2018 entertainment. And also to report that Improvaganza is a veritable repository for great T-shirts of diverse provenance (Paul Blinov’s Live Deliciously, for example; much to ponder there).

What Resonance got from the audience was a suggestion for “a poetic image. So, “a burnt newspaper.” And what this startlingly gifted Edmonton duo (Joel Crichton, Marguerite Lawler) did with it was improvise a complete, fully-formed and -crafted, blues-y song based on the death of the newspaper industry and the time-honoured tradition of reading the paper. “I’m feelin’ like yesterday’s news.” Perfect for media night.

Come Ova! is, as billed, “Queens’ first and only improvised sitcom’. What the New York troupe wanted from the audience was a possible episode title, like The Proof is in the Pudding or Fluffy’s Dead. What transpired was a family game of rummy, with a track of bickering and kibitzing and commentary on a stream of domestic free association. Hey, just like home — only very funny.

Rapid Fire’s Blinov, who’s naturally a very droll performer of the understated stripe, stepped in as a replacement for Devon Henderson in the Toronto duo Twoson. And he and Jackie Twomey did an amusing scene set (at an audience suggestion) in the smoke pit outside a high school — between the principal and a nerdy social underachiever kid.

Marv N’ Berry’s DJ audition sketch was a hoot. The “international ensemble” consisting of improvisers from, well, everywhere who basically met for the first time onstage, went the surreal route, with possible embedded allusions to the rude mechanicals’s scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.… There was a wall, and people lived in it and came out of it.

Judging by Dark Side of the Room’s contribution to the evening, you mustn’t miss their Saturday night showcase. They’re an ensemble of engaging African-American improvisers from Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage, a sister company to Rapid Fire. And their inspired premise, which has a satirical kick to racial stereotypes built in, is to imagine classic white scenarios as if they were populated by black characters. “Something you don’t think black people know about” was their request to the audience. Country music, a brunch gone wrong.” Very funny, and with an edge.

Sphinxes, a top-drawer ensemble of women and non-gender-conforming performers from Rapid Fire , did a high-speed round of “that reminds me of the time …”  It’s a sort of baton-passing tag-team of unravelling free-association that started, in this iteration, with “cellphone” and travelled far and wide.

Success 5000 is an original musical comedy duo well worth seeking out. Their sketch showcase is Sunday night.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. Photo supplied.

I’m here to tell you that if you have a chance to see Showstopper! The Improvised Musical from a virtuoso English company that includes Adam Meggido, don’t blow it.  They’re dazzling. Their other show, The Society of Strange, sounds dauntingly difficult — something it shares with Improbotics, an experiment by Rapid Fire’s brainiac Kory Mathewson which combines improv and artificial intelligence (no kidding!).

The Society of Strange is devoted to the bizarre and sinister kind of storytelling made famous by H.P. Lovecraft. How can anyone possibly improvise suspense? Check out my 12thnight.ca interview with Meggido.

As for the Theatresports party of Improvaganza, the coveted trophy, the Stanley Cup of improv, was on display Wednesday night, as incentive to improvisers in the crowd. Personally constructed by Schuurman (he says), it’s an impressively towering and triumphal three-layer, er, object, that devotes itself vigorously to the concept of recycling. It includes a high school boys’ band trophy, and several trophies pertaining to high-impact sports such as bowling. Or was it curling? 

Improv knows no seasons, my friends. As co-hosts Julian Faid and Matt Schuurman (Rapid Fire’s artistic director) revealed, Rapid Fire has a hand (and artists) in some 14 Fringe shows in August. It should be a pretty crazy, unpredictable summer. 

Improvaganza 2018 runs through June 23 in a variety of venues at the Citadel. Consult rapidfiretheatre.com for show descriptions and a schedule.

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