JANIS LA COUVEE: Victoria – a hotbed of improvised theatre

City witnessing fast-paced development of this dramatic, and often comedic form

Many factors have contributed to Victoria’s current improv explosion including earlier foundational work by the Impromaniacs, Spilt Milk Comedy Theatre, Canadian Improv Games (in local high schools since 2001) and Atomic Vaudeville, where alumni including Mike Delamont, Amanda Lisman, Rod Peter Jr, Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson (Peter ‘n Chris), honed their talents on quick-witted and sometimes improvised sketches and routines.

The Impromaniacs, a fun club (and fixture on the scene) where people engaged in short form games, was winding down when Dave Morris arrived in Victoria. For a number of years Morris performed his solo shows at the Victoria Fringe before founding Paper Street Theatre, dedicated to “long form improvisation that feels like theatre,” in 2011.

Concurrently, Kirsten Van Ritzen and Ian Ferguson of Broad Theatrics came to town. Van Ritzen and Ferguson are veterans of Canadian improv, co-founders of the still running Die Nasty series of improvised soap opera that started in Edmonton in 1991. Die Nasty spawned further shows in Toronto, Los Angeles and even as far afield as London. In Victoria they immediately created the wildly popular Sin City the Live Improvised Serial and ran for seven seasons before taking a hiatus this year due to family and career obligations. There may be a special Sin City event in May; stay tuned for news about another season in the fall.

In the meantime, Van Ritzen is busy with her own acting career, and teaching post-secondary actors at the Victoria Academy of Dramatic Arts and popular comedy classes in the community. She has offered recreational improv classes and hopes to do so again soon. “Improv is a learned skill. It’s collaborative work that expands upon the joy of playing. Good improvisers make it look easy, creating the illusion that it’s effortless. The audience gets to experience a moment they will never experience again,” she says.

Besides a full season of theatre with four shows running October to February, Paper Street Theatre is presenting the Paper Street Improv Festival, April 24-28 at the Intrepid Theatre Club.

There will be visiting improvisers from Seattle, Vancouver, Sweden and Finland, plus workshops and two shows every night. Friday and Saturday late night shows feature the ever popular mashups (combining elements of two genres).

Morris is also busy teaching classes as well as running a monthly Improv Cabaret. Over the past seven years he’s built a community of improvisers and their audience. Every season Paper Street holds general auditions for the upcoming shows and often draws from the student base. Morris believes that “it’s not about making jokes, it’s about discovering moments.”

Paper Street regular – and Canadian Improv Games alumna – Monica Ogden has been performing with Tony Adams as the improv duo NickelPumpernickel. They’ve fused their two creative processes to form a unique and impulse driven theatrical experience that marries improv, devised and written work.

Entertainment Village is a new completely collaborative improvised theatre company with strengths in sketch comedy—improvised and written. Troupe member Andrew Brimstone states “Even though the second half of the show is written and rehearsed, it is built on the same foundation of trust and mutual respect as we explore new themes, stories, and characters as a team.” They intend to offer a monthly show at the Intrepid Theatre Club.

Audiences in Victoria are fortunate to have high level improv theatre readily available with multiple opportunities to attend shows and classes. Take a chance – you’ll be surprised at what this city’s improvisers have to offer.

Check out Janis online at janislacouvee.com.

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