English improv has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years, and consequently, so has the fifth edition of the Montreal Improv Festival.
The fest, which started off all those years ago with only two local troupes, now boasts 10, including Montreal’s veteran performers and newcomers, as well as a handful of out-of-towners here to prove their mettle.
Marc Rowland, one of the festival’s performers and directors, definitely thinks that the festival has grown in size and quality along with the state of Montreal’s improv. “I think that, especially in the last few years, we’ve started bringing out-of-towners and that’s sort of put the Montreal improv community on the map finally. That people are like, oh, there’s really good stuff going on there and some really fun things happening.” To put it simply: “We’re starting to become a thing that people realize exists.”
Rowland pointed to a decade-long lack of local improv on the docks of comedy giant Just for Laughs. “I imagine people just sort of forgot we existed,” said Rowland, who points to On the Spot as the bright spot in a bleak scene. But, “one troupe is not a scene. Two troupes is not a scene.”
In the past few years, with the advent of new improv groups and a new improv venue, ThÃ©’tre Ste. Catherine, performers are garnering more attention and “notoriety.” To Rowland, improv is flourishing in the city: “I think we’re starting to hit a critical mass.”
Some of the Montreal acts include On the Spot, the venerable group which has been playing regularly around town for over 20 years. There’s girl act Queen (“not the band!”) and the Jam, a musical improv led by Kirsten Rasmussen, in turn a member of Montreal Improv, which is putting together an “80s time travel piece in the vein of Back to the Future. Fringe Festival darlings Uncalled For will be performing at the fest in advance of their first scripted staging this October in Possible Worlds, directed by Concordia professor Liz Valdez. And there’s the Bitter End, another newcomer that has perfected both the web series and a regular “sitcom’ on stage, with a new live project on the way.
Rowland credits visiting troupes with bringing “fresh ideas” to Montreal, and keeping the local community from getting too “incestuous”. Upcoming visitors include Sexual Tyrannosaurus from Toronto, also known as Sex T-Rex. Rowland was hard-pressed to describe Sex T-Rex’s schtick, saying they described their work with jungle sounds.
Straight up from New York is Dearly Beloved, which is resurrecting a macabre comedy act from a few years ago called The Wake. The performers pick an obituary, and proceed to spin a story about the recently deceased person’s life.
Musical improv is on the agenda with Winnipeg’s Outside Joke sextet staging a long-form “improvised anti-musical.” Another foreign musical act is Wilder & Wilder, oddly enough a one-man act by Denverite Stephen Wilder, who posted excitedly about coming to Montreal on his Facebook page last Friday. Wilder’s half-hour show is an improvised musical, and with his stage act name, Wilder is guaranteed to have more than a few characters up his sleeve.
Check out the improv festival not just for a belly laugh, but for a chance to chart how our city’s improv scene is getting better and better every year.
The Montreal Improv Festival gets the ball rolling Oct. 6 to 9, at Mainline Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent Blvd. General admission is $10. The workshops are taking place on Saturday, and each last three hours. The cost is $50. Check out www.mprov.ca for schedules, and email email@example.com for information about the workshops.