New musical improv rides waves of laughter
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 19, 2013 06:00 am
Close your eyes for a minute and picture the intimate semi-circular playing space at the Varscona Theatre.
There’s no set except for a plank-board stage. Standing on the raised stage are six feisty actors firing in-your-face questions at the audience.
They’re young, ambitious and quick on their feet. And they’re raring to leave their signature on the improv theatre scene.
Not to be outdone by the actors, the raucous crowd explodes into silly answers, bouts of laughter and goofy catcalls – some no doubt lubricated by late-night bars on Whyte Avenue.
This night the crowd is hooked on disco, Meryl Streep and country music. Using these three themes as a spine for an improvised musical, the lickety-split performers burst into a kind of John Travolta country song.
Produced by Grindstone Productions, The 11 O’Clock Number is a two-act improvised musical that can veer into endless possibilities. Actors have no script or safety net while ad-libbing throughout the entire 90 minutes – every song, dance and standup comedy shtick.
Feeling the heat is Brennan Campbell, Peter Fernandes, Alyson Dicey, Brianne Jang, Adrianne Salmon and Katie Hudson.
The kooky, pressure-cooker bustle is a new concept that premiered on Friday, Jan. 11 to a 75 per cent sold out crowd. It runs every second week until April 19. Unlike Die-Nasty, an ongoing soap opera, The 11 O’Clock Number is a different storyline with different actors in each episode.
Host Byron Martin, a four-year veteran instructor at the St. Albert Children’s Theatre, tosses out six questions to the audience – one for each actor. With random ideas and wacky suggestions pelted back from the crowd, the adrenaline-charged actors veer off into a dizzying array of avenues.
“The more taken aback we are by the suggestions, the funnier it is. For the performers, it adds more danger, more risk. Improv sharpens your wit and the ability to stay relaxed under pressure. Like any other type of acting, it teaches you to be in the moment, be truthful and listen to each other,” says Martin, also Grindstone Productions’ founder.
He explains that Grindstone was conceived as an umbrella for this project.
“Jeff Haslam (Varscona Theatre’s artistic director) needed to fill the 11 p.m. on Friday nights after Rapid Fire moved to the Citadel Theatre. We brainstormed a few ideas and came up with a musical improv.”
With no compass or traveler’s guide, the off-kilter characters furiously weave their way from a disco ball dance studio to a farm to an imaginary Broadway show to a mailman’s romance.
Filling out the zigzag ride are impromptu tunes such as When the Shit Hit the Fan, Sis Don’t Hate Yourself and the big reconciliation love song at the end, I Found Me.
Accompanying the cast was the fabulous Erik Mortimer (keyboard), a MacEwan University student who has a strong command of jazz, Latin, country, rock and gospel. He too improvised and displayed a remarkable aptitude for listening and following the actors’ bizarre songs while keeping them on key.
Cackles of laughter rippled almost non-stop as the crowd lapped up the back-and-forth volley of anecdotes and song.
It was absolute absurdist comedy, a place where young comics live or die. Judging by the strong round of applause, the musical was a success and bodes well for successive nights.
The 11 O’Clock Number runs bi-monthly on Friday Jan. 25, Feb. 8 and 22, March 8 and 22, April 5 and April 19. Tickets are $14 at 780-420-1757 or online at www.tixonthesquare.ca.