Comedy is at its most vulnerable in improv. No script. No prewritten character to analyze. No direction. No second chance. From a mash of imagination and synchronous trust, improvisers bring to life worlds so absurd they have to be funny. This art form that combines acting skills with fast thinking gets two weeks of love at the Montreal Improv Festival. Celebrating it’s 10th year, the festival line-up is as diverse as it is stacked with talent.
Local talent will be joined by groups coming from New York, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Toronto. Most of the groups are associated with improv schools and regular improv events in their home cities. The chance to spend an hour(ish) watching these very funny folks is a rare one indeed.
“There are some awesome guests, some of the most experienced improvisers in North America,” Marc Rowland from Montreal Improv Theatre explains.
Each group is vetted by the festival. Local performers apply while out-of-towners are found by Rowland and Vinny François. “I do a fair amount of traveling at different festivals and so does Vinny. When we do that, we get to see other people perform and we make our invitations. It makes it easier to vouch for their awesomeness. We’ve seen them and we know them,” Rowland explains.
When it comes to the local groups, Rowland and the festival team look for a mix of experience levels. “We’re looking for variety, if possible,” he says. “We want to give newer performers a chance, but it skews towards more experienced groups.”
This year, the large number of duos applying has led to a night of duo performers. “A duo has a different feel from a larger ensemble,” Rowland says. “Those two people are up there the whole time. It’s just them. They never leave the stage. In a duo, you’re in it the whole time.”
While some improv shows can be competitive, the Montreal Improv Festival is all about showcasing the groups. “We’re not competitive at all,” Rowland says. “The festival is all embracing, all about the love. The audience is the winner.”
I ask him to point out some of the groups he’s excited to have perform. “It’s tough. They’re all amazing,” he says. He notes that Coko & Daphney (Toronto) are performing for the first time on the Montreal Improv Stage. He mentions that Benjamins are an awesome group from Vancouver with four funny women. Crush, from Ottawa, has been coming a long time. “One of their members, Al Connors, is the director of Canadian Improv Games, a high school improv competition. He’s an old hand at improv.”
As for local groups, Rowland begins to explain why each and every one excites him.
He also mentions that there are workshops taking place. “So many of the visiting troupes are teaching workshops and bringing their own ideas and style and philosophies and its great for budding improvisers to get new perspectives,” he says. Among them, Chad Mallett, a duo from Toronto, known for playing multiple characters in a specific style, are holding a workshop on creating memorable characters. “The workshops are selling out,” Rowland says and confirms that he even signed up for one himself.
If you’ve never seen an improv show and are wondering why you should go, Rowland has the perfect reason: what have you got to lose. “If they come, they will see the best improvisers around. The festival has some of the best improvisers in the country doing what they love so much and what they’re so good at. Improv is a great way to laugh and — though it sounds cheezy — a great way to experience humanity. You get to see people up there in front of you revealing themselves and very often in a very funny way. There’s something unique about improv that can’t be transmitted through anything else but live performance. You have to be there, so you know what’s happening now. A video, an on-line thing — it’s not the same experience. You have to see it live.”
The Montreal Improv festival takes place November 5-15 at the Montreal Improv Theatre (3697 St Laurent). French shows run November 5-7, and English ones from November 10-14. Shows start at 7 p.m. and feature between two and four acts, depending on the night. Click HERE for schedule and HERE for tickets. Festival pass for all shows is $50.