CENTRE STAGE: BroadWHAT?! brings musical improv to the masses and How to Survive an Apocalypse is a witty rom-com for the end times

How to Survive an Apocalypse starred Sebastien Archibald and Claire Hasselgrave.


Off Key Improv

June 15 – 19; Studio 1398

Most people have heard of Theatresports or been to one of their hilarious improv shows on Granville Island, but musical improv is still relatively new to our city. Off Key Improv plans to bring it to the masses with their new show, BroadWHAT?!.

In this completely improvised Broadway show, the cast will take audience information and answers to specific questions to create original characters and plots, while using the stereotypes, tropes, and song structures of Broadway classics. Producer and artistic director Jennifer Pielak explained that this is the biggest show her company has ever done. After the success of last winter’s Love, Musically (an improvised musical version of Love, Actually), they wanted to do a full-length musical with wide appeal.

It may seem impossible to rehearse for something like this, but Pielak explained that the company studies musicals: from the upbeat opening number to the climactic revolutionary song, they try to replicate musicals using other characters and an original plot. They have also been studying the dance moves used in musicals in order to incorporate them at the appropriate times as well. They will reference hits such as Les Misérables, Rent, Wicked, and Grease.

The cast of this show has to think on their feet, and Pielak said it’s a bit like acting, directing, and writing the show all at the same time while on stage. The company began with most members coming from an improv background but, especially for this show, Pielak felt it was important to bring in some new members with musical theatre training to complement the group. Now they are learning from each other and joining forces for this musical improv project.

Lighting director Jordan Boivin and stage manager Linnea Perry are both SFU alumni, as well as music director Peter Abando. For any musical theatre fan, this show is sure to delight, and for those new to the genre it will be a fun way to be introduced to the sights and sounds of Broadway.


How to Survive an Apocalypse

Touchstone Theatre, Firehall Arts Centre, Playwrights’ Theatre Centre

June 2-11; Firehall Arts Centre

“The apocalypse will not be gluten-free,” says Jen as she packs containers of rice into a large plastic tub. With little storage in the one-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband, Jen has replaced their ottoman with two packs of bottled water and is prepping for any kind of environmental or natural disaster — or for the end of the world if it comes to that.  

This new play by Jordan Hall is a witty romantic comedy that deals with themes of preparing for the end of times and the importance of self-reliance. It is also a chronicle of the trials and tribulations of modern urban life for someone in their twenties. I found it to be an accurate, although exaggerated, depiction of that lifestyle.  

Jen (Claire Hesselgrave) and Tim (Sebastien Archibald) have been married for a few years. Jen is a magazine editor struggling to keep her publication alive, and Tim is an unemployed game designer who eventually decides to devote his time to creating an end of the world simulation featuring the two of them. They are both unsure how their lives ended up this way, and Jen begins to question her marriage, feeling like she settled for Tim when she should have been with someone more daring or less “nice.”

As Jen learns about prepping for the end of days from the hot new consultant sent to save her magazine, she tries her best to impress him with her new foraging skills while convincing herself she is not attracted to him at all.

I enjoyed the witty one-liners and relevancy of the struggle that seems to plague my generation. It is so hard to grow up expecting to be able to own a house and have a stable job in your profession of choice and then finding it inordinately difficult to do so. Not living up to the vision you have of your future self is one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, and these characters all grapple with it in their own ways.

Aside from falling into the predictable adultery and rom-com ending, this was a stellar play from an emerging playwright. How to Survive an Apocalypse shows that as much as we may try to prepare for the end of the world or the onset of climate change, there are some things in life we can never be prepared for.