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Crush Improv celebrates five years of professional make-believe

By Jeff Paterson on December 6, 2012

These days, with so many things going on around us, how many of you have time to treat yourselves to a good laugh?  Well, you can begin by making plans to attend Crush Improv’s Fifth Anniversary Show this Friday at 8pm.  I’ll even pause a few moments while you call/text/email/holler-at/tweet that person you’re crushing on. Heck, contact your best friends and certainly contact your friends who have no idea what improv is.

For those of you who don’t know much about improv, maybe it’ll help to hear from Al Connors first. Connors is the National Director of the Canadian Improv Games, the high school competition similar to La Luige started in the seventies with Theatre Sports. The games are still going strong today in cities across the country.

Connors explains that “improv is the ultimate form of ‘in the moment creative expression.’ Literally, anything can happen.  It’s a shared experience between performer and audience, where everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on at the same time, and (hopefully) the performers are just a half-step ahead of the audience.”

Crush Improv is made up of a group of locals who fell in love with laughter and their story is as grassroots as it gets.  It began with five friends sneaking into unlocked classrooms and theatre halls, looking to hang out and do something fun with their free time.  They didn’t think they had to go out and overpay at a bar just to enjoy themselves and realized, when you feed off each other and find chemistry, you can have an explosion of fun. From their first shows at Club Saw, it was apparent that other people were really enjoying the types of performances they were putting on as well.

When asked about the kinds of shows they remember as being great, Connors replied “past anniversary shows, which we used to host at the Gladstone Theatre.  Many of the special guests from those shows will be joining us on Friday.  The first time we sold out the Gladstone was at a show we hosted called ‘Improv Awareness’ that was pretty sweet. Not many improv groups play in theatres, so to sell out a 260 seat theatre was pretty exciting.”

Connors also remembers what he considers to be their most difficult show. “We did a corporate gig where the crowd had been drinking for hours.” At one point during a set where volunteers “puppeteer” the improvisers, a somewhat inebriated gentleman picked up a Crush member, leaving Connors to keep the show under control and his teammate safe. “It was crazy and chaotic,” he says of the evening, but his improv skills helped him go with the flow and deal with the on-the-fly difficulties.

A good skit can also teach you a lot about letting loose as an audience and an individual.  I asked Al how improv can be applied to the everyday person’s life and he replied that “improv is about using what you have at hand to get what you need. It also teaches you to keep cool under pressure. It teaches you to take a positive attitude when faced with a problem. Job interviews are a pretty great place to strut some real life improv skills.”

As for the Fifth Anniversary Show this coming Friday, December 7th, it’s not just a celebration of sticking together for five years, but a testament to a city embracing such an idea and a thank-you to their supporters and audiences over the years. Most importantly though, it’s a celebration of humour. “We’re bringing together a dream-team of improv talent for one night only.  The show will be a mix of some of our favourite short-form games, as well as some long-form scenes that will use the whole cast and guests.  There will be some special appearances from Crush members in absentia, Cari Leslie (Amsterdam), Jordan Moffatt (Toronto) and Brad MacNeil (Vancouver).”

As for improv itself in the city, Connors is optimistic and happy with what he sees. “The scene seems pretty healthy.  We have enjoyed great crowds over the last couple of years.  There are a couple other local improv groups out there, all with regular gigs, as well as university teams.  I can’t really speak to how improv is in the public consciousness or how TV has affected the perception of improv since, generally, I’m in the middle of it.  I have no perspective as an outsider anymore.”

The anniversary show is a great way to tell them how, as an outsider, you feel about improv. If you do show up, make sure you arrive on time and figure out where you’re going on UofO campus to avoid interrupting.  Have fun and let loose!  It’s a lot cheaper than a 6-pack and doesn’t hurt the head so much the next morning, although your tummy muscles may be a bit sore from giggling.