If you’ve ever spent an evening being entertained by any of Montreal’s improv gods, you’ve likely asked yourself, “How do they do it?” Rejoice then, mortals, for the gates of Olympus are opening to all those eager to learn the tricks of the comedy trade.
Overlooking Saint-Laurent, the Montreal Improv Theatre is poised to become the city’s new epicenter of all things improv. Last weekend, the grand opening brought together local troupes On The Spot, The Bitter End and Uncalled For for a series of celebratory performances. “We wanted our friends to come,” Kirsten Rasmussen explains of the three-day festivities. “It will be a home for them. Uncalled For does have their monthly show at Mainline but if they want to do anything else, they know there’s a place for them.”
It’s that spirit of community at the heart of the excitement. “I’ve wanted to start my own space for a long time just because I think there’s room for it in the city,” Marc Rowland explains with justifiable pride. He and Rasmussen represent “two quarters” of the brains behind MIT, with Bryan Walsh and François Vincent accounting for the other four eighths. As professors at this Hogwarts of hilarity, each brings considerable experience to the table. Rasmussen was a member of Edmonton’s Rapid Fire Theatre before a visit to the 2008 Montreal Improv Games inspired her to make a move. “I just kinda fell in love with the city,” she recalls. After getting to know the local talent, she had to “come back and try to work with them.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Rowland, of Without Annette and Dance Animal, has spent so much time teaching he might as well grow a long white beard. Having instructed students in the art of Kung Fu, he sees some parallels between the disciplines. “I find there’s a great similarity in that you’re not teaching anyone what to do in any situation. You’re like ‘there are many options and these are the parameters in which I think you should operate.’ You need to be fluid, you can’t be rigid.”
You also need to be willing to make mistakes. “It’s not that I get so much better and I never mess up as an improviser,” laughs Rasmussen, “it’s that I get more charming about it. I’m just like ‘Haha… I swore a bunch!’”
“Sometimes mistakes can make the best offers,” adds Rowland, recalling a recent Bitter End performance. “This Ranger comes in and just starts talking to us, and then walks out… but we were in a bedroom. It made me realize ‘Oh, my character is likely having an affair with that Ranger and he just wandered into the bedroom!’ That gave all of us a great offer for where the story can go. It’ll take you to places your mind didn’t think of because it’s a flub.”
Classes, which have already begun, are divided into three levels, with semesters each lasting six weeks. “People come here to get more social,” Rasmussen says, of her students. “Improv is one of those arts that traverses over the line of drama-therapy almost because people come to get more confident. It does make you think on your feet.”
To test that theory, Rowland was challenged to offer up three words best describing the school: “Fun. It’s going to be fun. You can’t deny! Excitement. Because things are created in the moment. And Community is the last thing; to join in this group of people who are working together. FEC!”
Those preferring to simply observe the chaos from the comfort of their seats are encouraged to attend the weekly Smackdown. As Rasmussen puts it, “it’s every Friday and it features a bunch of other improvisers. It’s going to be one of our staples. It’s our potato.”
You don’t get more FEC-ing funny than that. To sample said potato, head over to 3713 Saint-Laurent. For information regarding classes, visit the Montreal Improv site.