Improv isn’t just about making people laugh around pop culture themes. It’s also a craft and an art that its practitioners can study and practice. To do so, there are a variety of improv exercises and games, some of which become full shows. Montreal Improv is building a show around pairing acting with improv. That’s right. 50% of the show will be actors performing from a memorized script and 50% will be improv actors trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I spoke to Vance Gillis as he walked through Jarry Park about 50/50, the second installment of this unique type of acting meets improv show.
Gillis explains the premise more completely. “Each scene has one actor who has rehearsed lines and one improviser. The improvisor have no idea what the actors have rehearsed. The show unfolds by throwing the improvisor out there with the actor who will not adjust his/her lines at all. The improvisor has to figure out the situation.”
In all, there are eight scenes that have been chosen from plays that are obscure enough that (hopefully) the improvisors will not recognize them. Furthermore, the improvisor won’t know his acting partner until just before the scene. Unlike a normally scripted play, Gillis will end the scene when it “seems right, usually before the actor runs out of lines.”
This isn’t the first time that 50/50 is being done at Montreal Improv. It was attempted in February with seven different scenes. Gillis was impressed with the combinations that came out. “It felt immediate and very funny,” he says.
The idea for the show came from Gravid Water, a show Gillis saw in New York at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, though the format for this type of show originated in Los Angeles under Stephen Ruddy. “I was blown away,” says Gillis. “It was so funny. And, I thought it’d be fun to try it here in Montreal, if only because our scene is blooming at the moment. It’s a cool way to link improv with non-improvisors.”
Gillis is bringing in a number of established actors, including Miriam Cummings, Emily Bilton, Nicky Fournier, Al Lafrance, Eve Majzels, Sehar Manji, and Nic Turcotte. The improvisors include the founders of Montreal Improv and other familiar faces: Mark Rowland, Vinny Francois, Bryan Walsh, Brent Skagford, Megas Fitzgerald, Mariana Vial, D.J. Mausner, and James McGee.He says that everyone has said “yes” but notes that both the improvisors and actors are nervous about this sort of thing. “You don’t rehearse this kind of thing,” he says.
By keeping things as uncertain as possible, the audience responds. “It adds to the atmosphere in the room. The audience is in same position as improvisors. They’re rooting them on and it boosts the energy.”
The actors, of course, are supposed to “push forward as if normal” no matter what the improvisor does. Finding scripts that work was probably the hardest part of putting 50/50 together. “I had to go through four scripts to find one that works,” says Gillis. In all, the scenes chosen all have different moods and time periods to keep the improvisors on their toes. There’s a mix of comedy and drama and the scenes can come from anywhere in the play.
Gillis is enthusiastic about the future of improv in Montreal. “We’re building quickly, especially on the English side,” he says.
50/50 takes place July 30 at 8:30 p.m. at the Montreal Improv Theatre (3697 St Laurent). $8. Opening for 50/50 is improv duo Avocado Guacamole.