A world of uncertainty: a playground for improv. Dungeons, Dragons, and Die-Nasty

Mark Meer as the Dungeon Master in Rapid Fire Theatre’s improvised Dungeons & Dragons. Photo supplied

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

In a world of uncertainty, improv makes perfect sense. It’s no coincidence that in a crisis, award-winning artists in this improv-crazy theatre town have stepped up to the challenge, and improvised new ways to take performance online. Here are a couple of deluxe possibilities, one for Saturday, one for Monday.

A. We’re all looking for signs, a pattern, something to give shape to a formless, chaotic universe. Elite nerdery can help.

The “very last live show” Mark Meer he did before the Great Shutdown of 2020 was an improvised stage version of Dungeons & Dragons (an exportable Meer invention that’s been one of Rapid Fire Theatre’s biggest hits for a decade) at Dad’s Garage, RFT’s sibling comedy co. in Atlanta.

Colin Mochrie and Mark Meer in Rapid Fire Theatre’s improvised Dungeons & Dragons. Photo supplied.

On Saturday at 8 p.m., live, the Dungeon Master takes his improvised stage Dungeons & Dragons online, in a new socially distanced live streamed version. On Rapid Fire’s YouTube page, you’ll see Meer as the Dungeon Master, joined by a deluxe cast of improvisers led by Canadian star Colin Mochrie. “The patron saint of improv” as Meer calls him has appeared numbers times with Edmonton improvisers, who regularly attract a coterie of national and international players.

The cast includes Travis Sharp from Dad’s Garage, whose blue-chip nerdery credentials include creating a Star Wars musical called Wicket (in which the story is told from the Ewok perspective), Song of the Living Dead, and Change: Another Teenage Werewolf Musical. And the senior corps of RFT improvisers includes Joleen Ballendine, Gordie Lucius, Julia Grochowski, and Lee Boyes.

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“The return of regular characters, characters who have lived onstage and have a history with our audience, give continuity to the show,” says Meer. Cues from the online audience set them forth into the unknown.

Saturday’s live-streamed improvised adaptation on Rapid Fire’s YouTube channel comes at the invitation of Edmonton Nerd List’s Virtual Con. And it includes monster artwork by local artists Fish Griwkowsky, Stephen Notley, Nat Jones, Tim Mikula, and Trevor Sieben.

“Since we all existed in the old universe,” as Meer puts it, he’s spent a considerable time, at oddball hours of day and night, actually playing D&D online, using Zoom. His fellow players, far-flung across the globe and its time zones, include Adam Meggido (whose production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is now on hold at both the Citadel and the Vancouver Arts Club Theatre) and Alan Cox (of School of Night fame) in Britain, and D&D devotés in New Zealand.

Connect to Saturday night’s show on YouTube here. (Donations to RFT welcome, of course).

B. It didn’t take long for Die-Nasty, E-town’s award-winning live improvised soap opera, to devise an alternative to its weekly onstage performances at the Varscona. They are improvisers, after all. A scant week after the great pandemic lockdown of March, Die-Nasty was back in action (thanks to the expertise of Peter Brown), with an online radio-play version of their 29th season, set in the golden age of vaudeville in the New York of 1919.

A cast of 14 (with guests) in their own separate homes (and a fetching assortment of wigs and hats) continued, on Zoom, the story set in motion last October 21 on the Varscona stage. Monday night’s final episode is the last grand flourish of the arc, an extravaganza of sudsy intrigue, murderous ambition, treachery, betrayal, upstaging, “backstage backstabbing” for top billing at the Ferguson Theatre (named in honour of weekly soap improv founding parent Ian Ferguson). Monday’s special guest is actor/improviser John B. Lowe, an Die-Nasty alumnus based in Kelowna.   

Expect “big news and revelations,” says Die-Nasty regular Stephanie Wolfe. She plays Juniper Jones, “a sassy brassy broad, a hula hoop/ singer/ dancer flapper and part-owner of the Ferguson Theatre who may or may not have killed someone.” Questions abound. “How did it get so weird?” wondered “burlesque queen” Daisy Darling in last week’s episode, when all she wanted was adulation by hundreds of millions.

Amongst other characters improvised for season, you’ll see Mark Meer as a character named from real-life history: silent movie star Lou Tellegen. Belinda Cornish plays a spoiled movie star named Geraldine Farrar, Tellegen’s real-life wife, who just wants regular things, you know like fame and fortune and her lover. Jesse Gervais is the Ferguson’s “cold, calculating, increasingly menacing” accountant, who arrived in last week’s episode wielding a gun. Kristi Hansen is the Ferguson’s stage manager Bobbie Smarts, who seems to have a homicidal jealous streak. Matt Alden as the jaunty Jack Potts has just invested every cent of his family’s money in the stock market. It’s 1921, and what with a 10-year growth period for stocks, what could go wrong, right?

What will happen? Who did off that obnoxious kid, anyhow? The only way to find out is to show up on Die-Nasty’s YouTube channel on Monday.  Here’s the link.     

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