This past Saturday was a pretty fucking amazing day, not gonna lie. And I don’t claim to have amazing days all too often, so feel free to read on. For starters, it was my second Saturday off in a row, so, SHAZAM, right there. And it was my second Saturday spent at MY SUMMER CRUSH, courtesy of local heroes Crush Improv, this being the end of week two of three of their expanded and outstanding summer series. Last Saturday was spent in the sublime company of the lady miss Kirsten Rasmussen, and it was hard to imagine how this weekend was gonna top that. And while I’m not saying it DID top it (because, Kirsten Rasmussen!), this day was right up there, believe me.
Special guest stars for the day BAD DOG THEATRE were pouring into town by the vanful out of Toronto, and three of them got there early enough to teach us stuffy Ottawa types a thing or two in a special Theme exploration Workshop from 1-5, which I was mightily looking forward to. Improvisers and instructors Anders Yates (who some of you might remember from his time in the awesome troupe UNCALLED FOR), Chris Ramelan and Tess Degenstein ushered me and seven other attendees under their wings for a workshop that would very handily blow my mind. For serious, gang, the way they stripped down the process of creating a scene from scratch and making it matter was so bafflingly simple it was like one of those wonky lenticular pictures you stare at, when suddenly another picture just emerges out of nothing. You know, if I ever actually saw the pictures in those things. As it is, I’m usually stuck being Ethan Supplee in MALLRATS…but not today.
First off, lemme tell y’all about a very cool and slightly weird exercize* the gang walked us through…it involved pairing up with someone, facing off, and staring each other straight in the eyes. No, that’s NOT all. Chris would shout out a word…say, Desert. One partner would then say that word to their partner, and the other would have to say the first related word that popped into their head. Simple, right? Well, turns out maybe not so much, especially when Chris is running around the room urging us to go faster and faster, and then adding in new conditions at random (“famous people associated with deserts only…go”:) , culminating in a round where the every couple had to create a story back and forth, using only one word at a time. Not like “The” “Desert” “Was” “Hot”…or anything like that, nut more like Snapshots, as Chris put it. Something like:
…and so on, if you get the picture. It reminded me a bit of that improv game where everyone gets assigned a number, and can only speak in sentences with that many words in it, but if everyone just got one. Which, now that I’ve done this, would be a pretty interesting thing to try. I grappled with this one for a while, no lie…it was hard to turn the conscious part of my mind down enough to just go with the flow. Also, making eye contact apparently freaks me the fuck out. But that’s another story.
Honestly, there was a ton of amazingly useful information and play in that workshop, including two of my fav’rit scenes I’ve ever played in (an admittedly limited repertoire to draw from, but still). Very good tips got drilled in about how to start a scene, build a relationship, find the stakes and raise them, and just allow yourself the time to let your world establish itself, before the robots attack or the puppy factory burs down, or whatever the wacky twist is. I know this rookie has a tendency to rush to the crisis, before the audience gets a chance to find out what anyone’s name is, or why we should give a shit about their lives. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that if you’re interested in Improv and Bad Dog Theatre is around, GO TO THEM. They are wise indeed (and terribly pleasant folk to play an afternoon away with, too…Anders, Chris and Tess were perfect hosts and instructors, all love to them).
Once the shop was over I hightailed it to Smoke’s for a poutine dinner and some down time before heading right back to Arts Court, where the Bad Dog show was slated to start up at 8. Well, not exactly at 8, since there was an opening act consisting of a little game play from 4 members of the advanced workshop crew. And tonight, that was Ryan, Kevin M, Jill…and me. Yessir, it was time to see if any of this learning was sinking in, or if I was even half as funny as I think I am when it’s just me and Winston at the apartment. Bad Dog had drawn a good sized crowd, so me and the gang had some pressure on us. Dan Lajoie handled the emcee chores, and gave us four games to goof around with…Options (which is a straightforward improv scene, with occasional interruptions for new audience suggestions and directions), Foursquare (four different 2-person scenes, rotated in a square formation, very fun), Switch/Change (like foursquare, but now a single 2-person scene, parts alternating between all 4 performers), and New Choice (in which performers are occasionally ordered to change their last line of dialogue, until the emcee decides the scene can continue). You can probably YouTube all of these games (name variance from region to region notwithstanding) to get a better idea if you’re not familiar with them, but I think that, rough patches and rookie bumbles aside, we handled ourselves just fine. I’m really starting to enjoy foursquare and new choice, although I could still feel myself holding back as far as making broad character choices goes. But since it was my first time doing improv in front of an honest-to-gosh audience, I forgive myself. Just this once. Mad props to Kevin M, Jill and Ryan, who knocked it outta the park and made me look good. I’ll never forget the wheelbarrow factory.
But once our set ended, it was time for the main event, and that was the Bad Dog Repertory Company’s THIS CANADIAN LIFE, based on some podcast or other that is apparently a thing. Taking a suggestion from audience member and fellow advanced workshopee Adam, the BadDog troupe based their makeshift 3-part live radio show on summer camping, and featured a veritable Avengers-worthy lineup of comedy rockstars…as well as Chris Ramelan, Anders Yates and Tess Degenstein, there was Colin Munch, Sarah Hillier, Sean Tabares, Jess Bryson, and…oh God, was that all of them? Am I missing someone? SO MANY FUNNY PEOPLE. Watching them work was downright inspirational…their collective improv skills are off the charts….like tossing words into a blender, and ending up with the script to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Like with Kirsten Rasmussen the week before, everything we were taught in the workshop got an incredible showcase in their performance. The Bad Dogs can craft a scene and characters like the masters of old, and I hadn’t laughed as hard since…well, last Saturday. Have I mentioned how much I’m enjoying this series?
Seriously great stuff, I’m in awe of the whole troupe (I could have watched Sarah and Jess as their excitable camp girl characters for a solid hour all by themselves…painfully fucking funny), and I’ll be watching for any chance on my schedule to hop down to Toronto and see them in their native element where they put on regular themed shows. Sounds like a great excuse for a road trip to me, anyways. They brought the house down, and stuck around for the late show with Crush. And what happens at the late show stays at the late show, but I will say this: Unitards. If you missed this one, folks, you missed OUT.
And now I’m out too, it feels like I’ve been raving for quite a while now. Up this week at MY SUMMER CRUSH: Final Foundations and Advanced workshops with Dan and AL on Tuesday and Wednesday, Performance Ensemble showcase on Thursday (which I might be part of the opening set for once again), MONTREAL IMPROV with a workshop and show, EASY ACTION on Friday night, Anders Yates sketch writing workshop on Saturday afternoon, UNCALLED FOR with their greatest sketch hits that night, and the final epic Late Show at 10 that night. Please do yourself a favour and come out for some of this great stuff, trust me…we WANT this series to get bigger and better every year. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)
* to anyone who might be getting annoyed at my spelling of this word (and by ‘anyone’, I of course mean Caitlin), I just wanted to say, yes, I’m well aware that the ‘proper’ spelling is Exercise. My spelling here is a nod to an old hero of mine, Robert Anton Wilson, who used this version of the word (quite deliberately, mind you) in his books quite frequently, because what fun are words and language if you can’t shape them to your will from time to time?