Improv Near & Far

Better late than never?

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I recently spent a month in the stunning Alberta province of Canada. Most of my time was spent in the city of Calgary.  "Why Calgary?" asked many a local.  In summer 2017, I began researching the town of Banff, which is about two hours east of Calgary. That mountain town has some of the most pristine lakes and wondrous mountains I've ever seen.  The summer climate is refreshing with it's low humidity, rushing breezes, and mild temperatures.  The 10 p.m. sunsets don't hurt either. The generous daylight hours make it feel as though you are living a longer, more adventurous life - all the while ska-dooing about inside what feels like a live action postcard.

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I do a volunteer ministry work with those who are deaf. This work is done in every corner of the earth, and so I did a search for the sign language congregation closest to Banff. This led me to Calgary, a city much more affordable than Banff during summer’s peak season. Calgary is a city with foundations in the oil industry. It's veritable cowboy country, which is especially clear during its annual Stampede festival. For ten days, people roam the streets and party dressed in native First Nations garments and full on cowboy/cowgirl get ups.

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If you've been keeping up with my blog or connecting with me on Instagram, you know that I mention my friend Amy Angellili often. Amy's passion for improvisational acting has taken her all over the globe. No matter where she travels, she connects with the improv communities in the cities she visits. Her M.O. encouraged me to do something similar. Before I left for Canada, I told myself to look into what kind of improv scene Calgary has. I managed to keep busy there, especially during the first three weeks. Toward the end of my stay, I found myself home alone on a friend's couch with unscheduled time on my hands. A proverbial light went off in my mind, and I started looking online for improv goings on in town. Sure enough, there was a show that day at none other than The Loose Moose Theatre Company.  It's been active since 1977, and has been a launching pad for some big wigs that went on to work in film, television, and stage productions (Kids in the Hall, anyone?) The company's co-founder and artistic director is Keith Johnstone. The techniques and training styles he implemented and cultivated are being used internationally.  You may also be familiar with Loose Moose's other artistic director, Dennis Cahill.  He's a founding member who has done extensive work with the theatre for the last 28 years. He has performed and mentored in cities ranging from New York and Helsinki to towns within his native Alberta.

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I hurriedly rode to the theatre and enjoyed what can be described as a live Whose Line? performance. The use of props and costumes made the scenes believable and laugh out loud hysterical. The actors worked seamlessly together as they played games dictated by two spinning wheels that spelled out their on stage fates. To watch them perform was to see principles of open-mindedness in action. They were on the same wavelength in a figurative match of ping pong. A Finnish woman in the audience volunteered to participate in a show that allowed her to direct a scene. She was given a horn and a bell. The horn would signal a request for adjustment, and a bell chime meant approval. She gave the actors bits of information about her personality, her boyfriend's, and her friend "Mila's" (Mila is short for a longer name that I can't remember). The volunteer shared that she dreams of one day owning sheep in the countryside, which led to my favorite performance of the night. Each actor portrayed either the Finnish woman, her boyfriend, or "Mila". When their actions and comments lined up with the corresponding character, the bell would chime. When they didn't quite line up, the horn would honk and they'd adjust accordingly until the rewarding bell dinged. The best part came when her “boyfriend” presented a sheep as a gift. In crawled a man who owned the role. He was on all fours, biting furniture, biting the carpet, and cuddling up to the actors while being pet. It was hilarious. His dedication to the character sums up what improv should be.

I open with better late than never because being in-house for the performances further ignited my creative fuel. I only wish that I had remembered to get involved earlier in my stay. It turns out I could have volunteered and enrolled in complimentary classes. I have virtually zero work in the summer, which gives me time to be more active in volunteer work and creative endeavors like an improv class. It'll require a fight to do much improv post August. Just one of several reasons to return during a not so distant summer...