The first time I saw Crush Improv was way back in the summer of 2010. It was as a part of the now defunct (or at least comatose) SUMMER FLING series being put on then by Arts Court. I’ll be honest…it was not only my first time seeing Crush, it was also my first time at an Improv show, period. Their show was called MY SUMMER CRUSH, and I loved it to bits. The Summer Crush has been back in different forms since then, but this year it’s undergone a major growth spurt and is back at Arts Court for three whole weeks of much-needed summer comedy mayhem! Not only will the current expanded series feature performances by the core Crush gang themselves – AL Connors, Dan Lajoie, Tim Anderson, Desiree Connors-Warmington, and of course, Glen Gower on keys – but they’ve invited some of their most talented pals along for shows and workshops all throughout the event…we might even see a few first-timers on the stage, thanks to the Thursday evening Performance Ensemble workshops, designed for just such a purpose. I’m excited as an electric poodle for this shindig to get underway, but rather than do too much blathering myself, I dusted off my uber-lazy ‘5 Questions’ interview bit from Fringe and went straight to the brains of the Crush operation, Heather Marie ‘HM’ Connors to get the scoop on just why MY SUMMER CRUSH is the most important thing in your life.
– What is your role with Crush Improv (besides being AL’s boss)?
– Despite popular opinion, I am not actually AL’s boss. We do collaborate on a lot of projects together, as co-producers of Crush Improv. And that is ideal in so many ways, as our skill sets are very complimentary.
– MY SUMMER CRUSH started as part of the Arts Court SUMMER FLING series back in 2010. How has it grown since then?
– Yeah…did I mention I named My Summer Crush? I did, in 2010. The Arts Court Foundation had asked for pitches from people, AL pitched his idea (which I named My Summer Crush, still very proud of that) where there would be workshops and shows, and it became part of the Summer Fling series. I think that was the first time Crush realized the appetite that was out there for this kind of programming; not only for audiences but for talented performers who just needed the opportunity to be seen. It ran for two years under the Summer Fling banner, and then in 2012 My Summer Crush was a series of weekly shows out of the Elmdale Tavern. This year we (I) decided that My Summer Crush had the potential to be so much more, and we wanted to bring it back into Arts Court, and back to the idea of doing a mix of workshops and shows, with the added element that we would collaborate with other improv and theatre companies to present a full series of summer comedy.
– How hard was it to decide which awesome guest-stars to invite (and how awesome are they)?
– Choosing the line-up for My Summer Crush was super fun. I really did start from the premise: who do we have a crush on, who we think hasn’t been seen by Ottawa audiences? And then beyond that, who do we know who can both perform and teach? Obviously there aren’t a lot of improv performance opportunities in Ottawa, but more importantly, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to learn different styles of improvisation, or as an improviser, to expand your tool kit beyond the basics of communication and playing games. So that’s what I was looking for: shows that we love that haven’t been to Ottawa, and performers who also teach.
Crush has had a long standing love affair with the Montreal sketch/improv company Uncalled For, so they were naturally at the top of the list, but where we have brought them to town multiple times for improv shows, this time we asked they bring a sketch comedy show to be part of this series. On top of that I really wanted Anders Yates to teach a sketch writing workshop. Again, this is something you just don’t have access to in this town, and yet I know there are talented writer/performers here who are interested in getting into sketch comedy. Programming this workshop, taught by someone who regularly writes, performs and teaches sketch comedy, is my attempt at kick-starting some sketch comedy writing to happen here in Ottawa.
Julie Dumais is another long-time crush of ours, and she now runs Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto – one of the biggest and most popular theatre and improv companies in that city. Bad Dog does a lot of genre-based improv shows, as well as a lot of training. We of course wanted to get them here, and we’re lucky they could find a weekend that wasn’t already jam packed with their own programming, where they could actually come to town and play with us.
Kirsten Rasmussen is known for her solo work in theatre, as well as for being one of the founders of Montreal Improv. We brought her in a few months ago to teach a workshop and it was the most well attended workshop I think we’ve run to date. Kirsten is an incredibly talented performer who also happens to be a great teacher, so she was an obvious ask for My Summer Crush. Ottawa audiences haven’t had a chance to see her solo work, so I was thrilled when she said she could do “Tough!” for us on Aug.17th.
I would characterize our relationship with Montreal Improv as more of a budding romance – because of our proximity, we’re finding there’s all sorts of opportunities for our two companies to collaborate – both for performances and workshops. I had heard about the popularity of “Easy Action”, as that is a show Marc and Brent have been doing for a while – I am excited to bring that one here because it means I finally get to see it!
As for the local components to our line-up: I’ve been talking to Andy Massingham literally for months about offering a movement workshop specifically for improvisers. As you know, improv shows very often take place on blank stages, so the improvisers’ bodies are not only their tools, but also their set and props! Also improvisers like to get physical with one another on stage – picking each other up, or contorting into weird shapes – I love that sort of thing but want to make sure we’re teaching people to do it safely – so, these are the conversations I’ve been having with Andy, and My Summer Crush became the perfect opportunity where he can come in and work with our ensembles – and they can incorporate what they learn into their shows.
I kept a spot in the first weekend of My Summer Crush open for a local show. AL and I went to local Fringe shows, to scout something out. When we saw “Happiness” by May Can Theatre, we knew we had found it. I’ve had a crush on the May Can Theatre boys for a couple of years now, but “Happiness” is also perfect because the premise is it takes place at a seminar, and I feel like the studio environment matches perfectly with the conceit that the audience is attending a seminar. When I started to talking to Cory and Tony, they told me how they were taking “Wolves>Boys” to Fundy Fringe, and they wanted to do some kind of public performance of it before taking it on the road. “Wolves” was one of my favourite 2012 Fringe shows. We realized we had a mutually beneficial opportunity here to do both shows, and we decided to make the first Friday a May Can Double Bill. Thank goodness these guys are young and have a lot of energy, ’cause those are two very different shows to do in one night! But I think it’s a great opportunity for the audience to see the range of what May Can is doing, and that’s what makes it exciting.
– Are workshops something Crush Improv is committed to continuing beyond this series?
– Yes, definitely. I’ve been on this kick about workshops since September, and since then we’ve been offering on average a workshop a month. It’s something I’m really passionate about, I think if we’re to grow the scene here in Ottawa, we can’t just keep looking to each other and repeating the same things over and over. It’s important to know what is happening elsewhere and to capitalize on the opportunity to work with other artists when they are in town.
There’s also clearly an appetite for accessible improv workshops – there are a few places in town offering improv classes, either as a social thing or as a resource for becoming a better communicator – and those are great to have – but Crush is the only professional improv company offering workshops taught by performers. We get asked all the time when the next workshop will be offered, so we know this is something people are looking for. We have a whole series of workshops already lined up for the fall, so stay tuned.
– Where do you see MY SUMMER CRUSH in 5 years?
– It’s hard for me to say right now what I see My Summer Crush becoming – this is a pilot year for the idea of producing a line-up of shows as well as a workshop series. I’m going to learn a lot throughout the run of this series, and it will of course influence where I want to go with it. But the potential exists to keep growing it as a summer series, to look for more partnerships and interesting collaborations – to look further than Montreal and Toronto – there are obviously more companies we’d love to work with, from say Edmonton or Vancouver, or Atlanta or New York. For now I am just extremely thrilled to finally launch the programming that I’ve been crafting in my head for the last two years. It came together this year in an amazing way, and I got a lot of my first choices. I can’t wait for people to see what we’re doing in Arts Court Studio! And how cool is it that Kichessippi came through as a beer sponsor? Yeah…how about we just enjoy these next three weeks, and then I’ll think about the next five years?
There ya have it, folks…if you’re not excited yet, contact your programmer and ask him to switch on your emotion chip already. I’m signed up for at least 8 of the killer workshops being offered, and fully plan to blog the living shit out of MY SUMMER CRUSH, as foolishly and drunkenly as I can manage. The action gets underway this very night with the first Foundations workshop, from the man Dan Lajoie himself, I’ll be there the next night, and so should you. It’s gonna be good, yo. See you at Arts Court! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)