Brown bears wielding grappling hooks and other improvised delights

By Brent Constantin

Improvisation is an art form based on a performer’s quick wits and ability to roll with the punches. Done well it looks effortless, like a well-rehearsed skit or play. Done badly, it ends up being scenes about brown grappling hooks:”I’m going to need an everyday colour from the audience. Just go ahead and shout out a colour you might typically see. Okay, I heard brown. Now I’m going to need an object that a bear might use. All right. Grappling hook.”

Those with a penchant for improvised comedy can check out the Calgary International Improv Festival, running until October 5 at the Epcor Centre’s Engineered Air Theatre.

“Last year vastly exceeded our expectations,” said Hilton, “we were all blown away, including Epcor, who became our main sponsor.”

Now in its second year, the event is hosted by Calgary group The Improv Guild and boasts a collection of performers from Canada and the international community.

On Thursday the Guild invites you to bring a date to see Edmonton’s Rapid Fire Theatre and Vancouver Theatresports for a two-for-one special.

Friday brings L.A. Impro to the stage from California to create and act out Jane Austin Unscripted, a show that organizer Rick Hilton describes, “as if Jane Austen was still alive and she was writing the play right there.”

Hilton says that for the now four-year-old group last year’s success creates high hopes for the 2009 festival.

“Calgary is a hotbed of improv,” Hilton responded when asked about the success of the festival. “Calgarians take for granted how much great talent is in this city, but Calgary is really a vital part of the international [improv] community.”

Outside of the festival The Improv Guild hosts regular performances every Friday night at the old recycle depot directly across the street from the Erlton/Stampede LRT station at 8 p.m., ticket prices going for whatever patrons can afford to pay. This location, nicknamed called the Impro Depot by the guild, also hosts each performance’s afterparty during the festival, where audience members can meet the performers and enjoy live music courtesy of Platinum Alibi.