It’s all wit, no script.
The Calgary Improv Festival is bringing an onslaught of diverse shows ranging from impromptu songs, to improv à la français, to a showcase of female talent packed into six days.
Because improv shows can’t function without a lively audience, the comics are banking on large crowds.
“There is no substitute for live improvisation,” says Colin Mochrie, of Whose Line is it Anyway?. Mochrie is headlining the show-closer alongside Roman Danylo of CTV’s Comedy Inc.
“It’s so rare to experience a level playing field for both the actors and the audience,” Mochrie adds. “The audience is a part of the act; they have a vested interest in the performance because they’re the ones giving us the material.”
Shows like the francophone Théâtre à Pic, or the make-it-up-as-you-go musical by Outside Joke, offer audiences a wide variety to choose from.
Festival director Rick Hilton created Women in Improv, a one-night show with an all-female lineup, a few years ago as an experiment. In a field as heavily male-dominated as improv, Hilton wanted to encourage women to take up the art form, in addition to showcasing the talent that’s already there.
“The results were dramatic,” says Hilton, whose own Calgary Improv Guild is now at parity between the sexes. Having more women onstage adds more depth and nuances. “It’s got legs.”
Patti Stiles, who trained in Calgary and is now based in Melbourne, Australia, insisted on coming back to direct the show. She theorizes that some women may be scared away from improvisation because, in a beauty-obsessed culture, improv sometime requires you to be ugly — albeit in a fun way.
The opportunity to play without men is refreshing, though.
“When you have an all-female show you can have a hysterically funny scene about giving birth,” says Stiles. “Women discuss what that’s like because those are our stories.”
Despite the fact that this is an ‘international’ festival, ties to Calgary are strong throughout the show. Both Stiles and Mochrie credit Keith Johnstone of Loose Moose Theatre and his original improv crew — including Hilton — as being a fundamental step in their improvised careers. “You’ve got this world-class talent in Calgary,” Stiles says. “You’ve got this breeding ground for these amazing performers that have come out of Calgary and out of Edmonton, all through improvisation.”