Improvising into the wee hours

Past Your Bedtime riffs on fortune cookies and audience stories

A new 10:30 p.m. improv show at Loose Moose Theatre appropriately titled Past Your Bedtime is the creation of improv artists Renée Amber and Andrew Phung who test-drove the format last fall and have now formally launched a run that will continue on Friday nights until June.

The hour-long show works like this: most nights will start with a 20-minute opener featuring a variety of Calgary improv performers then the show heads into a mock-debate duologue between Phung and Amber where they riff on a given theme and give the audience a chance to get to know a little more about them. Then the fortune cookies come out: and alongside the pithy wisdom of the fortunes Amber and Phung question the audience further to get ideas for improv scenes.

But considering that improv artists by definition make everything up as they go along what’s special about a new structure anyway?

“I don’t think it would be coherent if we didn’t have a structure; it would just be like sitting around watching a bunch of drunk people make jokes” says Amber.

“People intuitively know what a satisfying story is… we use formats that will allow the audience to give us feedback and we’ve noticed that strong stories are actually rewarded by the audience.”

For his part Phung says new formats make him uncomfortable — and that’s a good thing. “When I’m uncomfortable it’s the most honest stuff that comes out.”

So far they’ve found that Past Your Bedtime seems to connect with the audience on a more meaningful level than improv typically does. Instead of suggestions like “bathroom” or “gynecologist” which they often get when inviting ideas at prime-time shows audience members at Past Your Bedtime are revealing deeper parts of their personalities admitting to marital or relationship problems or volunteering that the last thing they bought on Kijiji was a haircut.

The performers speculate that there’s something about the fortune cookies and the way Amber and Phung reveal part of themselves in the opening duologue that encourages audiences to offer such thoughtful suggestions.

“Somehow it gives people permission to open up in ways that they might not otherwise open up ways that we didn’t expect” says Amber.

“I feel like right now we’re developing something with the audience. We don’t know what it is yet but we’re evolving it” adds Phung.

While most shows are unthemed except for what the fortune cookies randomly provide the pair is planning to do a special Valentine’s Day edition of best and worst romance stories — so come armed with anecdotes if you plan to attend that show.

The opener is another opportunity for audiences and particularly Loose Moose regulars to get a taste of other improv performers and other styles of improv in this city. Those accustomed to short-form Theatresports might never have seen the long-form improv style of the Kinkonauts or One Lions for example.

“We felt like we could be champions in the community of showcasing these other improv groups that rarely get stage time get them to our space and get them to new audiences to help build their audiences” says Phung. “We want to give back to the form that was so good to us.”

The show will never be the same twice no matter how many times you go — and with a 10:30 p.m. start time it won’t interfere with your dinner plans. A fortune cookie might be the perfect way to round out your Friday night.