JAS360 brings performance art to Calgary

By Andy Williams

Improv Everywhere, a New York-based performance art group, has captivated people the world over with their guerilla improvisational skits. The group carries out pranks or “missions” in different venues and locales, most of which are public. Their efforts include the annual NYC “No Pants” subway ride where hundreds of volunteers ride the rails pantless and, when questioned, respond that they simply forgot their pants that day.

The group has also captivated the attention of three Calgarians with a penchant for the same kind of improv. University of Calgary students Alicia Ward, Jamie Hobbs and Shelby Jansen founded JAS360 last year to tackle the same kind of performance art that Improv Everywhere find so much success with.

“We just got together with no idea what we were going to do that day; we just decided that we were going to create a performance,” says Hobbs. “We wanted to do something with that [Improv Everywhere] vibe.”

The first performance Hobbs references was a simple undertaking. The group got together, made some signs and stood on the side of the road engaging drivers.

“At the first station on the road, we had a sign that said, ‘Have you seen my sister Evelyn?’ and Alicia was just there wandering around,” says Hobbs. “Down a few blocks, Shelby and I were there and Shelby had a bottle of tequila and a sun hat and I had a sign that said, ‘Sister Evelyn.’ We got honks from the cars and cheers and laughs.”

The simple performance got the exact type of the response the group hopes to garner more of — they view their work as a way to connect and engage with members of the community. And, hopefully, to improve their day.

“People were a little concerned when they first saw that Sister Evelyn was missing,” laughs Jansen. “But people seemed to really enjoy it. A lot of people were laughing, a lot of people were smiling, there was pointing, there was honking. Some people drove around twice just to see it again. It’s something that builds art and builds community and it’s a good thing for us.”

The group did a whole series of the “Have you seen my…” with the object or person changing every time. They have also expanded their performances and are now working on a new project — Happiness Hallways — with another U of C student, Allison Zwozdesky.

“This project was inspired by our happiness class that we are taking right now on campus with Dr. Patrick Finn,” says Zwozdesky. “It’s a response to our final project of the year. What we are going to do is bring some happiness to the hallways of our university campus.”

The group has been inspired by installation artist Miranda July, who uses objects and phrases placed in a hallway to convey a message to the viewer as they explore it. The group has added a JAS360 twist though.

“Instead of bringing a story to a hallway, we’d like to start off a story for our students and give them an opportunity to see a whole bunch of people who really focus on making their day better and giving them some happiness,” says Zwozdesky.

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