Adventures in the YYC Comedy Scene – Improv Guild & The Antarctic Show

I have grown tired of awaiting on company for Weekend Adventures and refuse to believe that Friday Night Spinsterhood consists solely of crocheting, Dateline and laundry. Lately, I have been feeling rather stifled by the rigidity of my mundane routine, 9 to 5 often lacks the adventure I desire. A lack of vacation days and income have tied me from traveling anywhere to seek something different.  However one can only see so many true crime shows before losing complete faith in humanity, so I thought it best to step out into the city to seek out my old friend comedy in hopes of injecting some laughter into my robotic life.

ImageMy sense of adventure once again took me beyond my beloved Loose Moose Theatre, my true comedy love in the city of Calgary, and found me trekking towards the Improv Guild. For years now, while traveling to work on the train or heading down south to visit my parents, I curiously noticed the weird small, purple building on McLeod Trail. It was not until post-flood that I found out that said purple building was where the Improv Guild performed. I was really excited to check out the insides of the purple building, so much so that I got to the venue in my regular fashion of awkwardly much too early. Luckily, the building was equipped with a cozy couch for me to sit on and take notes while the performers warmed up and socialized in a back room. The space was much larger inside than I had imagined it to be and I could not spot any real damage from the flood, which is great! As time approached, only a small spattering of people showed up. Young regulars, parents of improvisers and me, luckily before the show started I was joined by two of my favourite regulars to the comedy scene who agreed to check out the Guild with me.

The show started with the Artistic Directror, Rick, introducing his “nervous” class of novice improvisers. As a person who has taken many adult improvising classes and performed in only one class showcase (with an audience of 9, 7 of them people I invited), I knew how exhilarating and terrifying getting up on stage can be. To their credit this class of newbie improvisers were pretty fearless and provided me with some genuine laughs. Their showcase also introduced me to a new set games that I actually didn’t dislike as much as I do other improv games and it peaked my interest as an audience member and on-again-off-again improviser. The next part of the show introduced four regularly featured Guilders. There was no format that really brought the show together, so Rick kind of just set up the game for each scene and the improvisers would execute said scene. The four improviser were great and I got the chills of a great comedy discovery (similar to my first time seeing Ryan Belleville, Rob Mitchelson, Andrew Phung or Jackie Fries on stage) when I was saw Guilder, Heather Falk, perform. She has a great energy on stage, amazing timing and was not at all a stage hog and I found her to be the most engaging part of the night. Overall, the Improv Guild seems to have a really great and central space to work with but their show was very short. All other improv shows I have been to in Calgary and other cities run for about an hour to two hours but the Improv Guild Show was only 45 minutes and I think I accredit that to the lack of format of their Friday Night Showcase. However, I really liked the little bit I saw at the Improv Guild and would definitely be intrigued enough to go back for more shows.

Next we went back to the Moose to check out the late night show called the Antarctic Show, an experimental show developed by some of the newer Loose Moose regulars. The show was the idea of Josh Bertwistle, who has been all over the Calgary improv scene as of late, and is based off the concept of playing pretend and promises a new play every night set in the Antarctic. Yesterday’s play was about a cabbie who meets a time traveling scientist and a snowbot, it featured a soundtrack of improvised synthesizer. Overall, I enjoyed the concept of the show and I thought the improvising was stellar but once again, I wish that I got a little more time for my $12.

I think the best thing about my Friday Night Comedy Adventure was that I got to see even more doors being opened in Calgary’s improv scene to new experimental shows and I discovered a talented new (to me) improviser on the scene. What is great about Calgary’s improv community is that they consistently seem to collaborate and support each other, and regulars from rival theatres are more and more showing up on stage and in the audience at each other’s shows. I think this is a sign of great things to come in the Calgary’s comedy scene in 2014.

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Exploring Calgary’s improv scene – The Kinkonauts

ImageI have been a loyal fan of short form, theatresports style improvisation since my days in high school here in Calgary, when we would perform it in drama class and go for shows at Calgary’s historic Loose Moose Theater. I have been frequenting the Moose loyally for about 15 years now, as a spectator and a student of their adult classes, and I have always been a big fan of their formula. While sometimes I do tire of the limitation of their improv games like “a word at a time” or “speak in one voice”, I do love watching and performing the scene work produced in short form theatre.

My only vague knowledge of long form theatre is from my very short visit to Toronto’s Second City this past April. As a rabid fan of shows like Saturday Night Live, Kids in The Hall and SCTV, this had been a lifelong dream of mine. In my short week there I squeezed in a show and a sketch comedy writing class. From my tiny taste of Second City, I really was drawn to their formula of woven together stories in short vignettes that came together at the end. They were experimental at Second City by playing with written pieces right to next improvised skits and even added in a dash of improvised music. It kept me engaged in a completely different way than short form improv had and I came away wanting more.

Yesterday in the basement of an old church off 16th Ave NW, I was introduced to a gem of a theatre group called the Kinkonauts. They perform in a small space painted black with a tiny carpeted raised stage and access to limited props and seating but the crowd they hosted were energetic and friendly. This space is only available to the Kinkonauts every other month for 5 days of performances. The first show last night, featured players from improv groups around the city, including the Loose Moose Theatre and the Improv Guild, to play alongside the Kinkonauts. The show showcased a similar formula to that of Second City’s with short improvised segments of woven stories from several groups of 3 to 7 people that encourage the audience to be in on the inside jokes that reappear from the beginning to the end of each segment. Some transitions were smoother than others but overall I was engrossed in everything that was happening in front of me because the formula encourages the audience to be in on the continuity of the jokes.

The second show of the night is an experimental improv show called Mixed Tape, the brainchild one of my favourite local improv stars Andrew Phung, and a few talented Improv Guilders. This show introduced me to new (to me) faces in Calgary’s improv scene and showcased a radical experimental improv formula. The show opened with a 3 person troupe called “Notorious” that blew my mind with something innovative and exciting on the scene, improvised rap with a catchy improvised hook put together by the improviser from an audience suggestion! It was amazingly funny and impressively fast and got me interested in checking out the Improv Guild because three of their members slayed that segment last night. Next came Mixed Tape show, with the largest group of players of the night, doing scenes from the chosen album of the night, The Mis-education of Lauryn Hill. The music seemed to be inspiration for the movement and the movement seemed to inspiration of the beginning of a new scene. Scenes are intercepted by other scenes, all with a centralized theme and then the scene will restart from where it left off and at some other point the whole central message gets woven together. New scenes were cued by a player holding up a large ghetto blaster that would cue the sound guy to start the next song and push the narrative to the next section. I liked this fast paced concept and the experimental nature of the show, the narrative was hilarious and once again kept the audience in tune with the inside jokes that carried throughout the development. While I was completely engaged, my only criticism would be that there might have been too many players on stage. Once a scene was set with characters, it was difficult for players not involved in the first few scenes to get in the woven storyline, and as a result I felt like I missed out on one of my favourite players, Renee Amber from Loose Moose, who was not on stage enough for my liking. Other than that Mixed Tape was radical, new and highly entertaining and I loved it.

Last night I stepped out my improv comfort zone and went beyond Loose Moose here in Calgary and was pleased to be exposed to the extreme depth of improvised talent that exists within in this city. I hope to check out more Kinkonauts shows in February, when they return, and this Friday I am excited to check out something else new to me, The Improv Guild!

I encourage you all to go forth in your life and try something new! Breaking the mold can pull you out of a rut and introduce you to something new to get excited about. Embrace exploration!

Love,

A

How to survive being a loner…

note to selfThe most important survival tip for loners is you have to be a fan of your own company. Your entertainment and livelihood is in your own hands and the majority of your life’s purpose. The fact that no one is perfect can make the loner’s circumstances quite a challenging balancing act. There will inevitably be days where you won’t be able stand your own company. There will be days you feel utterly restless in your own skin. Sometimes, these days can turn into long stretches where life seems to be a hopeless, endless pit of sinking sand that you constantly have to trudge through day in and out just to live your life in survival mode. And survival mode brings bitterness and bitterness closes so many doors.

Lucky for us, there are days when things get shaken up for the good or the bad and life will push you to a new challenge and a new game, for you the sole player, to navigate on your own again and maybe, if you are lucky there will a break or two, sometimes even disguised as a good person, to make things easier along the way.

The loner’s journey can be long and lonely but it can also be deep in richness of courage, adventure and a lifelong development of unconditional self-love. So while it maybe your instinct to hide away when things get tough, more treasure lies in getting dressed and getting out there to seize whatever life has in store next.

Confession – I cry when I watch reality talent shows

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I know, I know as someone who hopes to write television, reality television should be the enemy but I am a sucker for reality talent shows about singing, dancing or cooking.

I get really excited to see people do something well that they are really passionate about it. To see someone engage in something they are so absorbed in and then the rush of joy that washes over their faces when they are done, pretty much 100% of the time has me weeping like a little baby. This has now become a rather messy occurrence, now that I run while watching television but the Voice’s sexy Adam Levine is the best cardio motivator on television these days.

People often criticize these kinds of shows as bastardizing the music, arts and cooking industries. However, I think that undervalues the guts it takes these contestants to put themselves and their passion out there to be scrutinized by famous judges, national voting audiences and international viewers. It is a testament to being open and vulnerable while showcasing a supreme display of confidence in not just yourself but your passion.

I think I cry now because I used to know that feeling of being absorbed by something you love and seeing it come to realization, and I miss it desperately. I used to get that feeling when I was on stage in junior high and high school. Taking on a character, making people laugh and the overall rush of a thunderous applause was a natural high I savoured back in my teenage years. In college, for the first time ever, I opened up myself up enough to share my creative writing. And my old stage rush from high school was replaced with the new rush of seeing or hearing my writing come together in a video or audio projects in broadcasting school. After college, for four glorious years, I had that rush and I was paid (poorly) for it, during my time as a radio creative writer.

When I got laid off from radio, I made the decision to choose money over that rush, so I could be a self-sufficient adult. And since then, there has only been a few glimmering moments that passion flickered back into my life – through improv acting classes and sketch comedy writing classes. Sure my paycheque has almost doubled, but in the last few months where all I have been doing is hacking away at dry projects after dry project at work and feeling too burned out to pursue anything creatively on the side, I have never felt less like myself. I feel like there is a limb missing or something.

So yeah, I cry when I watch a singer get lost in a song, a dancer move to the music or chef create something beautiful with food. I cry because I am blown away to witness such pure joy and talent. I cry because I so desperately want to be brave enough to take the leap to make that kind of contribution to the world again, even if just in a small way.

That’s me in the corner…

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The picture above is from a Kindergarten field trip, I am the loner sulking on the outside of the group.

For as long as I can remember, I have not been great dealing with other humans. It is not that I am shy and I can even be charming when I want to be. I have just always sort of been the outsider, many times by circumstance and as I grew up by choice. And please don’t get me wrong I have shared many entertaining moments with my fellow earthlings but there always seem to come a pivotal moment in my interactions with humans where I just don’t know how to deal or how to fit in.

After growing up in Winnipeg with very few friends besides my cousin, I moved to Calgary when I was 13 and was forced to try to make friends with people I was not related to and it was hard! In high school I kind of accidentally stumbled onto a group of friends that took me in as a fellow “outsider”. The mainstay of this group were 5 guys and 5 girls, the perfect recipe for intergroup mingling. Well for the most part everyone “mingled” except for this four-eyed chubby racial mutt, me, who became a really reliable source for holding back people’s hair when they drank too much or hearing them sob about their recent intergroup mingling drama.

A specific memory of mine was one of my first high school parties, when I was about 15 years old. One of the guy’s parents were out for the night, so he invited us over. I felt pretty good about myself, this was the first party I was invited to since I moved to Calgary two years earlier. I tried to dress in something cool but not like I was obviously trying to be cool. This was a pretty big deal to me at the time. I remember walking down to the basement and all the lamps were covered in scarves and Boyz 2 Men was setting the ambiance. I am the girl who was forced to cover her eyes watching cartoons kiss until I was 13, so to say the least I had no idea what was happening. I claimed a spot on the couch and uncomfortably settled in as I watched as three couples just magically formed around me and started simultaneously making out. I felt like I was on ABC after school special and I was sure there was something I was supposed to do to stop this teenage hijinx from getting out of control but instead I sat there awkwardly, with two awkward guys who repeatedly would hit each other’s junk. It was an uncomfortable situation that was repeated too many times during high school and after school in clubs where my friends would drunkenly disappear with dudes. And I would get mad sometimes about it and they could not understand why I was being such a stick in the mud. Maybe it WAS my chronic fat girl syndrome but I never knew how to handle this situation until recently. And now I just check to ensure no one got roofied and try to make a discrete exit to go home to the familiar comfort of my apartment and cat. I also avoid clubs like the plague!

I am now 31 and most of my friends have all disappeared into the abyss of suburbia. And after discovering that I am just as ungifted romantically as I am often socially, I have kind of decided to own my loner status. While I desperately want to contribute something of substance to this world, I know I can’t sit around and wait for my magical group of sitcom-like lifelong friends and romcom destined soul mate to all of a sudden magically appear to make my life become what I want it to be. Sure, at times, alone can be pretty sad and lonely but it also gives me undefined amount freedom to do what I want to do in this life, while being who I want to be. And to me that is not a tragedy, it is a victory waiting to happen.

Canadian Comedy Rant – Rebuttle to Vanity Fair

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Last year I read this highly irritating article about Canadian Comedy in Vanity Fair. The whole premise of this article itself was so debatable that all year I have been stewing about it, so today via blog post I will ensue a rant upon this article and an outcry for the world to recognize Canada as a major player on the international comedy scene.

The article aptly titled “Of Moose and Men” plays a disgraceful homage to a very much undervalued cornerstone to the Canadian comedy scene, Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary; whose alumni includes Kids In The Hall funnymen, Bruce McCullough and Mark McKinney. Begins with this unfortunate sub-headline:

“Canadians may be too nice, too passionless to be funny. On the other hand, the country’s low comic profile—notable emigrants aside—could be Britain’s fault. Or America’s. Yes, blame them!”

Ummmmm dear Vanity Fair contributor and Canadian traitor, Bruce McCall, what the eff?

I understand the generalization that Canadians are too nice and I find it to be one of the most complementary cultural stereotypes out there. But to say you can’t be nice to be funny, is a very skewed and ignorant way to view comedy. Something can be funny without tearing people down, humor can be found in kindness and positivity. And dare I say that happy and nice people and happy and nice comedy is brimming with passion? And then to devalue the contributions of the comedy geniuses born and raised in our home and native land by pushing “notable emigrants” to the side, dismisses so many of our valuable players on the world’s comedy stage.

The comedy institution, Saturday Night Live, is the brainchild of Canadian, Lorne Michaels. And to this day with his guidance it has survived good days and bad days and throughout the years it has consistently given birth to major comedy careers of many actors and of course the unsung heroes, the writers. Blockbuster king and the man with the most versatile face on the planet, Jim Carey, is ours too. My very first sitcom crush Alex P. Keaton, Mr. Michael J.Fox is from Vancouver! Friggin’ Austin Powers is played by Canadian Mike Myers for goodness sakes. I could go on and on.

Canadians are a hearty people who can find humour on the blustering blizzard- prone prairie or in a traffic jam on the 401 and Deerfoot. We are funny because we can laugh at ourselves and WITH those around us. We are funny because we are not afraid to get all weird and ugly for the laugh, see Martin Short’s Jiminy Glick for reference. We are funny and Vanity Fair’s silly little article can’t convince me otherwise!

Sure a lot of our funny ones go to the States to have their careers take off because in Canada we don’t have a Hollywood with production palaces and streets paved in gold. Canadian television has limited opportunities and funding. Every once in a while they push out a gem in the rough but we are too engrossed in the American television machine to give Canadian television much of a chance. But the screen is not the only place you can find good Canadian comedy.

In my city and yours too, there is a ton of good comedy to find. Good old, Canadian weirdos who just want to make you laugh whether it be through standup, sketch comedy or improv. I encourage you to take the time to google it and support your local comedy scene.

My dream for Canadian comedy is for  an all out revolution and for it to have a platform to thrive. To showcase what all the small theatre groups and comedy clubs in your city have to offer to the global comedy scene. A place where I can see a sketch video from Halifax compete with one from Winnipeg. A place, where on a cold Canadian winter night, I can watch a webcast of a show done in a comedy club in Toronto. A place that brings the Canadian comedy scene together from coast to coast to share a laugh. I am working to begin building this platform and I hope you will one day be able to come to this place online. Stay tuned.

Until then, I beg you to skip the romcom movie you were going to, getting drunk in your neighbourhood pub or just leave your cat at home tonight and go see just how funny Canadians are at a show in your city. I leave you with some suggestions that I hope you will explore and discover an appreciation for the freaking hilarious landscape of Canadian Comedy.

Calgary

Loose Moose Theatre

Kinkonauts

Improv Guild

Red Deer

Bull Skit Comedy

Edmonton

Rapid Fire Theatre

Winnipeg

Crossed Eyed Rascals

Toronto

Second City

The Comedy Bar

Vancouver

Vancouver TheatreSports League

Halifax

KICASS