Improv Fest brings comedy troupes to Granville Island

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From October 6 to 11, the Vancouver International Improv Festival (VIIF) lit up Granville Island. As Marc Rowland, a performer in the festival, said, “It’s a celebration of improvisation from groups across North America and the world.”

The art of improvisation means to create without preparation, and involves high levels of bravery and skill. This festival brings the spontaneity and adventure of improvisation to Vancouver. According to performer, Brent Skagford, “[This fest] bring some of the best acts from all across the country.” He continued, “There’s a great community here in Vancouver, and this festival just helps promote that.” Another artist, Rick Andrews, says that the VIIF is his “favourite festival because of the great energy.”

The first group I saw on October 10 was the Magnet Theatre Tour Co, featuring Rick Andrews, Lewis Kornfeld, and Megan Gray. From New York City, they started the night in front of a packed house. The audience was loud, and the troupe quickly proved to have wonderful timing and chemistry. From the hilarious relations between a butler and a black widow, to an idiot taunting huge birds and zookeepers, the series of skits was lively and detailed. The group had solid transitions, was consistently funny and outrageous, and made sure to tie up all loose ends.

Next was troupe Ferrari McSpeedy, starring Mike Fotis and Joe Bozic from Minneapolis. Demanding major audience participation, we all got very used to screaming ‘Fighting danger! Fighting crime!’ as this troupe did their short skits. They started off strong with a baking-inspired skit, but the performance became confused as the act progressed. The versatile voices of the actors were overwhelmed by their breaking out of character, which became distracting.

Hip.Bang! was up next, featuring local boys Devin Mackenzie and Tom Hill. This performance was extraordinarily fun, with tons of audience participation. Within five minutes, my cheeks began to hurt from smiling too much. Pregnant men, overly sexual scuba divers, and a biology lesson about trees created a crudely hilarious performance. The use of silences made the dialogue funnier, and the extensive fake kissing was a hilarious choice.

The night ended with Easy Action, a Montreal based group starring Brent Skagford and Marc Rowland. Unlike the other shows, Skagford and Rowland created one cohesive storyline in their performance. Their show was brilliant, full of chemistry, slightly disgusting, and extremely well acted. Skagford played a woman in a style reminiscent of comedian Ryan Stiles, creating a hilarious plot with Rowland, whose characterizations were also excellent.

In a short interview, Rowland and Skagford let me in on the life of an improv performer. Rowland is the director of both the Montreal Improv Theatre and the Montreal Improv Festival, and Skagford is the co-creator and co-star of The Bitter End web series, and both are fully engaged in Easy Action.

As Skagford explains, every show starts with “a single suggestion from the audience that inspires [the] show [then] the two of us together try to create a cohesive narrative with relationships, emotion, action, drama, and sex.”

As international performers, Rowland explained the importance of showcasing their work all over Canada, highlighting the importance of festivals like VIIF. In particular, Skagford said they like to “see what the scene is like in other cities, what their style is, and absorb it.”

When asked to describe improv as an art form, Skagford charracterized it as “an incredible adrenaline rush.” He continued, “You have no guarantees. It’s about experiencing that moment, right now, there is something interesting, and if [we] can find that, we can create ourselves a story.” Rowland added that “improv has a lot in common with the world’s great philosophies and religions — life is but breath, which is very much what we try to experience on stage.” They ended the interview by chanting, “SFU, we love you!”