Dave Morris guestimates fewer than 50 people in Canada make their living improvising, and he’s one of the lucky ones.
“When I was younger, I was more shy and closed off. When I found improv, I opened up … became a drama guy,” he says.
Right out of high school he got a job with the Canadian Improv Games, a national theatre festival that brings high school students from across Canada together to explore improvisation, after being exposed to the competition as a student at North Vancouver’s Carson Graham secondary.
He began teaching improv to adults shortly after and then branched out to corporate workshops.
Morris brought his skills from Vancouver to Victoria six years ago and gave himself over to improv full time. “It’s not a big market … I feel privileged to be an improviser,” he says.
Improv in Victoria is “boiling over,” adds Morris, who is also artistic director for Paper Street Theatre.
“It’s grown just enough that I need a home.”
He’s found one at 1109 Fort Street next to a martial arts studio. “Improv, martial arts, practically the same thing,” he jokes.
Paper Street Theatre’s An Improvised Quentin Tarantino won Pick of the Fringe in 2014 and an M Award for Top Original Production. Morris himself was chosen as favourite male performer at the Victoria Fringe Fest, he’s also an M Award nominee.
“When I moved to Victoria I took the plunge, I knew when I came here I would be an improv guy full time. … For the last six years I’ve earned a living exclusively through teaching improv,” he says.
His 2011 TEDx Victoria talk on the subject has more than 131,000 views on YouTube. Improv, in a nutshell, includes seven steps: Play, fail, listen, say ‘yes’, say ‘and’, play games, relax and have fun, says Morris.
His classes, which are are geared toward adults, help students “become a good listener, (improves) memory, helps you pay attention, be more fun to be around, be a good story teller and know how to accept offers and how to build on them collaboratively – get your ego out of the way,” he says.
The majority of people who come to improv classes are there to break out of their routine, learn to relax or improve their public speaking skills.
“You write a script, direct a play and act in it all at the same time, it’s kind of backwards – like driving by looking in the rearview mirror,” he says. “The amount of people who come back again and again to do level one still surprises me.”
Although improv is primarily comedic, it can turn in a moment and break your heart, says Morris.