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Creating musical theatre in the moment

by Kenneth Gibson January 15, 2019
Creating musical theatre in the moment

The Jazz Ands insert improv comedy into their performance for an hour of excitement

Winter’s deep freeze had just begun last Thursday, when the Jazz Ands performed the first of four upcoming monthly improvised musical theatre shows at Montreal Improv.

Nonetheless, a full room of eager audience members awaited the troupe when they hit the stage displaying the kind of enthusiasm people have come to expect from musical theatre types.

That particular brand of earnest passion can be summed up in a term we’re all familiar with now, “jazz hands,” and the troupe’s name is a actually a pun combining that term with the “Yes, and” rule from improv theatre.

They began by simply asking the audience to name a location where people might gather, and an object. The audience offered up a cabin in the woods and a vase. With that, the Jazz Ands set off to create an hour-long musical completely off the top of their heads. Pianist Marie Fatima Rudolf provided the musical accompaniment and vital music cues that helped keep the performers on track.

As you can imagine, the plot became increasingly absurd and convoluted, but that’s a large part of where the comedy comes from.

All the members of the Jazz Ands have been performing improv theatre in Montreal for many years. Adina Katz first met other troupe members Sandi Armstrong, Heidi Lynne Weeks and Mariana Vial about 10 years ago while performing improv at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine.

Katz would go on to leave Montreal for a while, studying musical improv at the Magnet Theater, an improv comedy theatre and school in New York City, as well as The Second City in Chicago. When she returned to Montreal, Katz was the driving force behind introducing more musical elements to the improv performed and taught at Montreal Improv.

“Witnessing the huge scene of musical improv in New York and Chicago,[…] I’m like ‘I want to come back to Montreal and this is one of the things I want to do, I want to teach, I want to have my own troupe,’” Katz said.

So when Katz returned to Montreal in 2017, she reached out to her old friends in the improv scene and convinced them to start the Jazz Ands, adding Coco Belliveau after seeing her sing during an improv performance at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine.

Despite the other members being a little nervous due to a lack of extensive musical theatre backgrounds, Katz knew their long history of improv performance would carry them through. That wealth of experience showed on stage. Notably, the musical they performed didn’t overly suffer from the pitfalls you might expect of unrehearsed performance, namely aimlessness and lack of narrative punch.

Sure, none of the songs they came up with are going to win a Tony Award anytime soon, and it had a slightly anarchic quality that comes from scriptless performance. Even so, there ended up being a defined narrative arch, vivid characters and a dramatic “shock” ending.

Katz does now teach musical improv at Montreal Improv. Happily, many of her students have gone on to form their own musical improv troupes, helping to grow this kind of performance in Montreal.

“It comes from just pure love and the fun of it, and it needs to be happening in Montreal. It’s so much fun to do and so much fun to watch,” Katz said.

The Jazz Ands will perform three more shows over the next three months. Each will be thematic, with February, of course, being romance-centric, and April being dedicated to spring. Katz encourages all fans of theatre to come out to a show, even those that may not have considered improv performance before.

“Even if you’ve never seen improv, but you like musical theatre, let’s say, come watch us goofballs improvise a show,” Katz said.

Feature photo by Kenneth Gibson

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