How is a match of theatrical improvisation best described? Dramatic performance? Humour dictated by a few rules? Is is a game or is it a sport? Who is the best improvisor — a comedian or a stage performer?
It was alongside those leading questions that a gala match was played on December 2 at TOHU. Starring two four-player teams, one featuring well-known actors and the other humorists, the competition launched the 2015 season of the LNI (Ligue Nationale d’Improvisation) that takes place usually at Club Soda. The event was also organized as a fundraiser, with a silent auction starting the evening, providing the audience with a strong reminder that the LNI is mostly self-sufficient and thus still needs help to keep offering art and laughter in Montreal.
Around the 360° stage, thirty tables or so were set as in a cabaret, and the two teams were soon exposed to our anxious gazes in the renowned hockey ring. And suddenly, in the “super-fans” galleries, the band Samajam Tania stroke the first beat and drummed its joy aloud at welcoming the Reds. The humorists’ team was coached by Benoît Chartier and consisted of captain Laurent Paquin, Louis Courchesne, Anaïs Favron and Virginie Fortin. The rhythm section also set the pace for the arrival of the Blues onstage, led by coach Christian Laurence, with captain Réal Bossé, Frédéric Barbusci, Salomé Corbo and Eve Landry. For the first time so far, the TOHU Cup was to be disputed, under the careful glare of referee Simon Rousseau.
The players fought for two 45-minute periods during which they aimed at giving the opposite team challenges, guided by the following themes: “The reason why I’m calling”, “You and me against the universe”, “The last kite”, or “Follow the leader!”. The improvisation was either mixed, with members from both teams at play, or compared, meaning one team came after the other. The category of the improvisation was often left free, except for a sung impro and one in bungee!
As a spectator, I must say, the show did not strike me as one of fine quality. Rather, it gave me the bitter taste of deja-vu, deja-entendu. I expected more from experienced players, especially since they all made a name for themselves in previous LNI involvements. Quick on the draw as they may be, both teams also went through a few empty periods that they hurried to fill up with easy jokes. It resulted in delaying the game somewhat and causing slight confusion. To be frank, I could not but agree with the referee’s judgement every time he had to speak up. At the end of the first period, there was a draw and I still have Simon Rousseau’s words echoing in my head: “Poet, do not talk about the winter, make it snow!”
Analyst Christian Vanasse and presenter Nicolas Pinson provided the audience with quick explanations over the mistakes committed with a playful and politically-correct tone. Things could have gone differently, considering that the whole evening was a running gag over the necessity of engaging more funds into the cultural sphere instead of cutting on them, as Pierre Carrier, president of the LNI, underlined at the onset of the first period.
He also pressed the idea that improvisation players as seed-planters. They indeed must plant civilization and teach each and every person they meet how to be a support, how to listen, how to go somewhere as a team. That was the most meaningful thing I have heard all evening — and it was not an improvisation but an oath of truth.
The Blues won, by the way, and they offered the adverse team the challenge of not being funny, which was not funny either. Hopefully, the opening season at Club Soda will be better.
The first LNI match to be played on Monday 9 February 2015 at Club Soda. See the 2015 schedule HERE.