Near the end of the theatre year, improv groups from around the world travel to Edmonton for Improvaganza, the annual improv festival hosted by local Improv group Rapid Fire Theatre. Over the course of a week, the audience gathered to witness a series of hilarious improv competitions and showcases, all leading up to one of the group figuring out how to fit the trophy into their luggage.
Each show is divided into two acts; Theatresports and the Showcase. With Theatresports, two theatre groups challenge each other to a series of improv games, with three of their peers serving as judges. Personality brims throughout the competition, not just from the competitors but also from the festival, acting as a borderline parody of competitions. When they aren’t mocking their oversized trophy for being made from the “pie making competition of 2008,” the ever-changing hosts encourage the audience to give the audience “a big round of boos.” The judges will often add or take away points for hilarious reasons, including Judge Gordie Lucius gave Improv group Missed Connections two points because their member (and Gordie’s roommate) Quinn Contini didn’t do the dishes. Lucius even orders the scoreboard to say “Quinn Suxx”, then gives it -35 points. Even the contestants get in on the fun, with the Benjamin’s Ember Konopaki constantly trying to steal the trophy from under host Lee Boyes. Nothing is sacred, except for audience enjoyment.
And we haven’t even gotten to the sports yet, which are hilarious in themselves. Audiences are treated to some creative improv challenges, whether it’s Reckless Theatre improvising a scene while eating spicy jalapeno peppers or Kidprovisers trying to re-enact Rumpelstiltskin in 1 minute…then 30 second…then 15 seconds. They don’t always knock it out of the park, at time forcing the host to blow the horn of boredom. But for the most part, they deliver so many unforgettable moments it’s hard to choose the best moment. Is it an improvised musical set in Santa’s summer home, ending with the elves revolting? Or is it one actress endlessely turning left during an driving improv scene?
After a brief intermission break, we are treated to a showcase, where one group gets to showcase their talents. Some guests like Montreal’s Ladies and Gentlemen and Success 5000 perform sketch shows. For the most part, each group performs a long form sketch performance. They are a little more divisive. Depending on your sense of humour, audience members will either find it hilarious or will find it’s not for them. The same can be said for the improv showcases, which improvise long form stories.
To me, the best showcases are the ones with a theme. It doesn’t mean the other teams are less talented, but the ones who stand out the most tend to have a trademark style to their performances. Last year, we had one group who did improv on relationships and another who improvised a Shakespeare play. This year features some particularly unique improv groups, including Missed Connections, a Calgary improv group who improvises scenes based on real life Missed Connections. Another Calgary improv group, One Lions, performed a parody of Glengarry Glen Ross, with actors Stephen Kent and Covy Holland playing dynamite salesmen. But the most notable stand out is the Colombian import Speechless. Accompanied by Winnipeg’s DJ Mama Cutsworth, Felipe Ortiz and Daniel Orrantia improvise a dialogue-free play about a tale of friends based on the childhood memories of one audience member. The result is a unique experience in performance art.
But that’s not all! Across the theatre is Ziedler Hall, the usual go-to home of Rapid Fire Theatre. For this festival, it serves as area for more showcase series. For the weekends, audience members can choose between seeing the Club’s Theatre Sports or head to Ziedler Hall for these showcases. For 8pm showings, we get one act showcasing one improv group’s performance. In the second half, improv groups from around world gather to form the International Festival Ensemble, performing a series of random improv bits, trying to link them all together. In the 10:30 performance however, we get a mixer show; a one of a kind show hosted by Rapid Fire Theatre. They are all fun, from the Improvised Vinyl Café to the Karaoke Bar.
If you’re interested in trying out improv yourself, the festival also offers classes hosted by the guests. If you want to learn how to write comedic songs, Success 5000 will show you how. Want to learn how to improvise a narrative? Nichole Passmore will help you find your voice. They are a bit pricey, but they provide an afternoon of unique entertainment while demonstrating the art of improv.
No matter who won that mutated trophy, the audience are guaranteed hours of side-splitting entertainment. Every improv actor sets up to the plate with charismatic energy, creative storytelling and a self-deprecating sense of humour. The festival itself seems to take on its own personality, mocking the vary notion of competition. The result is a larger than life show under the guise of an indie festival. You just keep coming back for more.
 By trophy, I mean a mutated blend of multiple trophies bought from Value Village.