If it’s Thursday night and you’re tired of hanging out at the same old watering hole, why not got down to Theatre Ste. Catherine (TSC) for an improvised change in routine?
Hey, It’s Thursday is a new weekly improv show starring a Montreal-based double bill. Up first is The Bitter End with their regular serialized comedy, followed by Uncalled For Improv.
The premise of this show is that of an improvised serial sitcom, so those skipping out on their favourite Thursday television shows will be delighted. While the format is like something you’d find on television, the set-up is very new to Montreal theatre.
Each week features new, 30-minute improvised episodes. First conceived for television, The Bitter End features the real-life adventures of three recurring characters: brothers and roommates Bernard and Les (Daniel Beirne and Brent Skagford), a free-spirited girl named Eden (Vanessa Matsui), and their various, colourful friends.
This is improv, but don’t expect Who’s Line is it Anyway? style games or surreal humour in this part of the show. The characters have real-life problems: going out on first dates, dealing with parents, and the like. Audience members have been tuning in at TSC week after week to watch each episode. Viewers who would like a taste of the show before forking out their hard-earned money can watch several episodes posted online at www.thebitterend.tumblr.com.
Next up is Uncalled For with their own brand of surreal humour. The two troupes knew each other from different projects beforehand, and each wanted to do a weekly show. Both acts are using the weekly show for experimentation: while The Bitter End is honing their narrative style, Uncalled For is using their stage time for long-running improvised stories.
“It’s kind of like a lab to try out different styles and ways of having fun,” said troupe member Dan Jeannotte.
The troupe first came together 10 years ago at the West Island’s John Abbott College. Since then, it has matured on Montreal’s stages rather than its comedy clubs and bars where other improv troupes are usually found. Some might remember their successful sketch shows Thunderspank and Blastback Babyzap at past Fringe Festivals, as well as their intrepid hosting of the late-night Fringe talk show, The 13th Hour, home of the 11-second dance party.
The TSC also hosts Without Annette, another Montreal improv troupe, on a weekly basis, and holds classes and shows every Sunday. While the Montreal English theatre scene is small compared to Toronto and the French local scene, the improv scene here is “buzzing,” said Jeannotte. He attributes the Montreal English theatre scene’s opening up to the founding of both Mainline Theatre (home of the Fringe Festival) and the TSC.
And what do they think of the Harper government’s arts funding cuts? Jeannotte quipped, “That was our decision, and we back it 100 per cent.” Uncalled For team member Anders Yates sarcastically proclaimed, “all artists are leeches.” But he then added disapprovingly that “artists are being created as ‘the other,'” as if to alienate the rest of the country against an unknown threat. The Bitter End and Uncalled For will be indirectly hurt due to cuts in funding, which support many festivals where they perform.
The Montreal Improv Festival, featuring both local and international talent, takes place Oct. 1-4.
For more information, check out www.onthespotimprov.ca