Making it up as they go

Calgary’s Improv Fest goes international

The fine art of making it up as you go along will be on full display as the second annual Calgary Improv Festival takes over the Engineered Air Theatre beginning September 30. This year however the festival will be an international affair drawing groups and workshop leaders from as far away as Australia and Los Angeles.

“With this festival we’ve really done our homework and we are bringing in some of the best improvisers in the world” says Mat Mailandt of the Curiously Canadian Improv Guild one of the festival’s founders.

While there will be some of the short-form Whose Line is it Anyway?- style of improvisation that audiences are used to the festival producers are also shaking things up with a few different approaches. One of those alternative approaches will come from LA Impro which specializes in long-form improv in the style of Jane Austen. And returning to Calgary is Patti Styles a Loose Moose veteran and the current artistic director of Impro Melbourne. Styles will be directing an all-female show called Quotable Women for the opening night gala. In true improvised style not even the festival’s organizers know what form the show will ultimately take.

“This is something completely unique. Pretty much no one is highlighting women in comedy this way through improv” says Mailandt. “We’ve got 10 female improvisers from all over the world. The focus is on famous women through history and the springboard will be famous quotations so it’s going to be a really interesting way to highlight the amazing contributions that women bring to improv.”

Also on board this year are the Vancouver Theatresports league a 25-year West Coast comedy institution and Edmonton’s Rapid Fire Theatre famous for their long-running improvised soap opera Die-Nasty. If the festival does seem a little short on something it might be local talent but it seems to be less of a snub and more of a growth strategy.

“Last year Loose Moose and Dirty Laundry and the Kinkonauts were all part of our festival” says Mailandt. “But this year we seriously just didn’t have the stage time. We wanted to really make room for our international guests and really highlight them because we are bringing them in from all over the world.”

The festival has reason to become a little more ambitious. A number of sponsors including the Engineered Air Theatre have come up in a big way to try and make this year’s festival as successful as it was last year. The 200-seat venue was filled to near-capacity every night and while it may not seem like much compared to a monster like the Calgary Folk Fest it’s a great start with plenty of room to grow. With a few unfamiliar improv styles and an international flavour to the proceedings Mailandt is very optimistic.

“Couldn’t be better” he says of the festival. “We are super excited to go international and we are going to bring Calgary a rocking show.”