Third annual Reactor Improv Festival rolls into Calgary on a wave of laughter

“In the real world we hear ‘no’ a lot. Improv teaches us to respond with, ‘Yes, and …’, and wouldn’t the world be more interesting if we tried saying, ‘Yes, and …’ more often?” – Jess Lindal, co-artistic director, The Kinkonauts

The third annual Reactor Improv Festival is just around the corner, featuring a four-day lineup chock full of creative improv events, from an improvised musical to female-centred performances to a church service for a made-up religion, and everything in between. Launched in 2017 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of local improv group The Kinkonauts, the Reactor Improv Festival brings together performances from the more than 50 members of The Kinkonauts cast, as well as featured guests.

The 2019 festival – which takes place Wednesday, April 17 through Saturday, April 20 – has quickly outgrown its usual venue at the Alexandra Centre, taking over nearby (and licensed!) Festival Hall for its Friday and Saturday evening performances. The Kinkonauts promise “explosive comedy and artistically-charged performances” and, with 10 shows in just four days, the lineup looks primed to deliver.

I recently spoke with Kinkonauts co-artistic director Jess Lindal, about what to expect at the 2019 event, and more. Like most Kinkonauts members, Lindal first discovered – and later joined – the group after taking an improv class in 2014. An experienced improviser, she fell in love with the community and has been an active member for the past three seasons. After joining the board in May 2018, she was named co-artistic director – alongside Sara Simpson – in January 2019. Together, they are responsible for programming more than 120 live shows per season.

“Improv is one of the most collaborative things you can do — it’s people working together, building off each other and surprising themselves, and the audience, with what they discover,” says Lindal. “What makes improv great is that it extends beyond the stage to life in general, even into the business world. Improv gives us a place we can learn to fail joyfully. It helps us listen and communicate better and, most of all, it teaches us to accept and value what others offer us.”

And The Kinkonauts aren’t just about entertaining audiences – though that’s certainly important. The group is committed to inclusion and safety, equity, representation and diversity. It’s a big part of who they are. “We’ve made a conscious effort to showcase underrepresented groups,” Lindal explains. “We’re so lucky to have incredible performers lending their talents to the festival, including a team entirely composed of people of colour, as well as representatives from the LGBTQ+ community.”

This attention to diversity and representation is what Lindal says she’s most looking forward to at the 2019 festival. “Representation is so important in the arts – it’s so powerful when people can see their identities and stories on stage. We want our stage and company to reflect all identities, and this festival is an opportunity to inspire more of that inclusion in the Calgary improv scene.

“I’m also really excited for ‘Unscriptured’ (Vancouver) closing out the festival Saturday night. It’s an improvised church service for a made-up religion. It’s an inclusive, fun show no matter your views and celebrates our collective spirituality with humility and hilarity. It’s definitely a different thing to do on the Easter/Passover weekend!” 

But what if you’re new to improv? Where do you start? “If you’re really curious about improv my advice would be to dive in and get a full night pass to either the Friday or Saturday evening performances,” Lindal suggests. “There are three shows each night featuring all our incredible special guests: The Bloody Marys, a veteran improv team from The Second City Toronto; and Casually Dope, an all-person-of-colour troupe from Baltimore with a killer hip-hop inspired show.”

You can also check out The Kinkonauts’ handy FAQ, which outlines some general information about what to expect at a show. (And for those parents interested in bringing the whole family to a Kinkonauts performance, I’d recommend giving this a quick once-over so you have a better sense of whether a Kinkonauts show is right for youngsters.)

Whether you’re new to The Kinkonauts – or improv in general – or you’ve followed this growing troupe for the past 10 years, the 2019 Reactor Improv Festival lineup is so well-designed, so loaded with such a range of quirky, delightful performances, there’s bound to be something to tickle your fancy – and your funny bone. 

(Photo of The Bloody Marys courtesy The Kinkonauts/Reactor Improv Festival.)

The 2019 Reactor Improv Festival runs Thursday, April 17 to Saturday, April 20 in Inglewood – at the Alexandra Centre and Festival Hall. Tickets are available at and range in price from $10 – $18 per show, or $30 per person for a one-night pass Friday and Saturday. Check out the complete festival lineup at

Shannon McClennan-Taylor is a writer, publicist, and arts/culture junkie with a bachelors in English Lit and a masters in International Journalism. When not at the theatre, cinema, or record store, she’s probably knitting.