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Members of Crush Improv, who will perform at the Ottawa Improv Festival. Photo from their website.

Improv Festival a showcase of art form, local talent

By Jared Davidson on April 12, 2016

Improv is like dancing. No one wants to be the only one doing it, but once a few people start, only the hardest of hearts can hold back. Something similar is happening in the Ottawa improv scene as new troupes continue to spring up, adding to the diversity of the local improv landscape. These days, it’s possible to find an improv-related event somewhere in the city on almost any given day.

With so many different factions, there is often competition, both on the stage and off. But all the stage combat stop this weekend as the community comes together to participate in the Ottawa Improv Festival. The festival takes place from April 14-16 and features talent both local and regional. It’s an opportunity to sample the many varieties of improvved arts, from improv troupes, to solo acts, to more dramatic performances. A ticket to either of the three nights buys you access to an evening of diverse laughs and, since it’s improv, there’s really no telling what might happen.

“We only have three days so we tried to program it so we could show as much as we could in that time,” said Chris Hannay, festival co-organizer.

The schedule includes such local favourites as Crush Improv and Trevor Comedy, as well as an impressive array of improv visitors from Toronto and Montreal, such as Coko and Daphney and BLT.

There’s no doubt that with the diversity of talent on offer, visitors are likely to get a pretty complicated idea of what improv is. Audiences will be treated to the kind of improv that you can find on a show like Whose Line Is It Anyway, but will also witness kinds of improv that are more narratively complete, ones that deal with emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness in addition to the typical laugh.

Rock Paper Sisters to perform at the Ottawa Improv Festival.

Rock Paper Sisters to perform at the Ottawa Improv Festival.

Hannay and co-organizers Dani Alon and Valerya Perelshtein hope that exposing the city to a healthy dose of improv will help to grow the community even further. Alon sees festivals like this as the perfect opportunity to recruit some new blood:

“I’m looking forward to the aftermath of the festival. After people have seen the performances and done the workshops, I want people to be galvanized to take their experiences from the festival and feel inspired to start their own troupes.”

Improv is contagious. It’s hard to see people on stage having fun and not want to join in. And there will be more than a few opportunities for audience members to get up there and strut their stuff during the festivals. Even if you miss your chance, there’s still plenty of ways to get involved. Many of the improv troupes in Ottawa host weekly or monthly get-togethers and “jams,” where participants get a chance to mix it up with a group of relatively-experienced improvisers.

Members of Expiremental Farm Theatre, organizers of the Ottawa Improv Festival

Members of Expiremental Farm Theatre, organizers of the Ottawa Improv Festival.

For those who are most interested in becoming a part of the scene, or at last improving their improv skills, the festival will also feature plenty of workshops on the craft of improv. The workshop feature improv experts from Toronto and Montreal who will discuss such subjects as storycrafting, and performing strong scenes. As Alon points out, many of the skills that are developed in improv can be applied to real life situations.

“Even not performing, improv has lots of real world benefits, I think: adaptability, teamwork, listening, sharing focus, paying attention.”

In other words, improv makes you a better person. Now, if that’s not a reason to justify another Ottawa festival, I don’t know what is.

The Ottawa Improv Festival runs from April 14-16 at Arts Court Theatre. Tickets are $10-15 and are available through the festival’s website.

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