For most of us, going on stage in front of people is a nightmare. We’ve all been told just to picture your audience naked to manage the anxiety — which is the worst advice I have ever heard. Nonetheless, for the improv folk that populated the Vancouver International Improv Festival, they thrive on that stress, performing and using the audience suggestions for inspiration. I was privileged to attend the Festival, and after a long week, I was excited for a good laugh. Despite being in it’s 19th year, I had never been to VIIF before, so I was excited to see what was in store. Both Friday and Saturday evening shows were located on Granville Island, an area filled with tourism and entertainment — the perfect location to host an Improv Festival.
I watched eight different improv groups perform over the two nights. All groups had their own unique characteristics and strategies for audience suggestions and all were hilarious — it’s hard to pick which was my favourite because most of the time I was laughing so hard I almost peed. I didn’t, don’t worry.
The intermissions during the performances were a bit short — only 10 minutes, which is not enough time to get a beverage and enjoy it, unless you were first in line. There was, however, more time for drinking, mixing and mingling between the 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. shows. After the performances, the improvisors often came out to the lobby to chat with their fans.
On Friday evening I was introduced to Dave Morris and Meags Fitzgerald from the group We’re So Strong. These two have known each other for a very long time, 16 years to be exact, which is half of Meags’ life and a third of Dave’s and somehow they manage to still be friends — or how Dave puts it “Meg still puts up with me.” Their set was inspired by an object — a walnut — and a quote — “argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” What developed was impressive, scenes of drama and comedy that held the crowd in suspense, waiting for what was going to happen next.
Overall, the festival’s location was well-suited, the atmosphere was excited and the acts were incredibly hilarious. With all different flavours of improv — some groups created complex, long-form story arcs, while others stuck to short snippet scenes — it was a great way to spend my weekend evenings. If you happened to miss VIIF this year, there are lots of opportunities to watch improv around Vancouver: Sunday Service at the Fox Cabaret is one of my favourites, along with Blind Tiger Comedy, Little Mountain Gallery, or Vancouver Theatre Sports. I can vouch that you will laugh so hard you might cry — or pee.