I 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!