When you ask many people around town about improv, Instant Theatre is bound to come up. While the company’s been through many incarnations, helming itself at the Globe Theatre in its infancy (now a Milano Coffee), its “fifth generation” is represented at this quaint dinner of ours, by artistic director Alistair Cook and Instant instructor Nicole Passmore. We dine and drink at the Rumpus Room, and while Cook and Passmore act as the de facto company reps, the entire atmosphere of the place screams Instant. Different improvisers are walking in, we bump into someone who’s taking an Instant program, and, lo and behold, Instant Company performer Cam MacLeod ends up buying us all shots. Reasonably liquored, we chat.
Instant Theatre prides itself on being at the alternative edge of Vancouver improv. While Vancouver TheatreSports League will always perform a more mainstream improv show, Instant focuses on the essence of improv and how to produce a show that not only makes you laugh, but makes you think, makes you feel, even makes you cry from time to time.
“Our primary goal isn’t just to be funny,” says Passmore. “It’s to do theatre. It’s to do art. To do comedy. To prove that not every art form that is comedy has to be focused on doing set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline. So we focus on doing great characters and narratives that people actually give a shit about.”
Instant is also set apart by the number of people involved. “We have a community of improvisers that train with us, with our cast, our faculty, and that’s about 150 people on a regular basis,” says Cook, himself an instructor. At times, it seems like Instant can feel more like a school than a theatre society, especially as the company has recently added a standup class and a sketch class with plans to add more.
“I think that film is a very important part of improvisational performance and comedic performance,” says Cook. “So I can see us adding that when we move on to a new facility in a year to a year-and-a-half. I think that also physical theatre is something that we should probably be doing.”
“Yeah, most improvisers are bad at physical stuff,” says Passmore. “We tend to stand around and talk.”
“Also, producing musicals, stage productions, so not just sketch shows, would be something we would like to experiment in,” says Cook. “Mostly because I really want to do Ghostbusters: The Musical.”
An interesting Fact About Each of the Instant Theatre Faculty:
Alistair Cook: Former Spray ‘N Wash RESOLVE spokesperson. Built his own backyard.
Nicole Passmore: Almost got kidnapped at Expo ’86.
Brad MacNeil: Guy at Ottawa Senators games known for singing on the jumbotron, lip-syncing such hits as “Eye of the Tiger,” “Dancing In The Dark,” and “Friday.”
Shawn Norman: Knows how to dispatch cabs.
Kyle Bottom: Had appendicitis for a year before knowing it. Apparently his appendix was too strong to burst.
Peter Carlone: Really loves guns. “He owns one and I think its name is Martha,” says Passmore.
And while Cook and Passmore teach at Instant, both facilitating the company’s Conservatory program, they also both perform with Instant.
“Any performance where Nicole ends up saying, ‘Because I’m a strong, independent woman’ is normally a good show, which is most of the shows she’s done,” says Cook.
“Recently we did a show on a stage that had three levels that we weren’t ready for. And I bailed and fell in the first three seconds and the audience thought it was an amazing pratfall. And I let them believe that, because the second time I fell made me even more embarrassed,” says Passmore.
One of Instant’s flagship shows is STREETFIGHT, an improv battle royale where individuals compete for votes from an audience and a guest judge.
“At the end of the show, there’s only one winner, like Highlander. There can only be one,” says Passmore. “And that winner takes home, not only glory, but the most ridiculous gift card we can find. Like La Senza … or Buy-Low.”
In the spirit of improv, we flashback to MacLeod. This time, the shots he gives us aren’t your standard affair. He gets us picklebacks: a shot of whiskey chased with a shot of pickle brine. With a collective understanding of “saying yes,” we down it, the pickle brine oddly compliments the smooth whiskey. As the unique mix of flavours set in our mouths, Passmore delivers her best improvised mission statement: “Instant is a fucking party.”