Improvisation takes trust, good communication, creativity – and 15 seconds.
Matthew Lee, Centretown News
Lisgar Collegiate's improv team will compete in the Canadian Improv Games in March.
Lisgar Collegiate’s improv team combined those elements to win the regional tournament of the Canadian Improv Games on Jan. 19.
Lisgar and 31 other teams from schools in the Ottawa area took to the National Arts Centre stage, where they were given a suggestion from the audience and 15 seconds to create a compelling and creative four-minute performance in this high-energy event.
“What other venue lets 40 high school kids a night, actually say and do whatever they want on stage? That type of freedom in front of an audience is extremely rare,” says Al Connors, president and artistic director of the regional and national Canadian Improv Games.
Over the course of four nights, five teams of eight improv players competed in four events in an elimination contest leading to the Jan. 19 final.
Lisgar’s team finished with the highest score, securing its place in the nationals along with Glebe and Canterbury high schools.
Lisgar’s improv team has competed in the nationals almost every year since 2004, but has not won the national title since 2000.
Connors, who has directed the games for 12 years, says a good improv team takes commitment, communication and practice – which he admits is sometimes hard for high school students.
Lisgar’s improv team has no trouble with commitment. During the year, the team members practise three or four times a week.
Team member Lexa Michaelides says the team eats lunch together and makes plans outside of school, such as bowling, as team-bonding activities. This year, the team faced a new challenge – the teacher’s labour dispute – which kept the coach who started the team in 1996, Kathleen Klassen, from extracurricular activities.
“We’re getting by, but it sucks. It’s difficult not having her there,” says Adrian Manicom, another member of Lisgar’s improv team. He says a coach helps when they are stuck on a problem, if they can’t agree on an idea and generally just to guide and teach them.
In the meantime, Eric Stewart, who graduated last year and was part of the improv team when he attended Lisgar, volunteers as a coach. Stewart is a first-year university student though, and not always able to come to practices, so the team also relies on parent volunteers for help.
“It’s tough. We generally need a grounded person who keeps us on track,” says Michaelides, who has stepped up as a team captain. She says team members are all equals, though she has taken on some administrative roles, such as organizing fundraisers and practices.
Connors says that having a coach or some sort of leader outside of the team is important for a strong improv unit.
A coach can “act as an outside eye to help kind of shape the team,” he says, “and remind them about what they are supposed to be doing and to push them to practise, because practicing is not something that is always a fun thing to do.”
The labour dispute has not only affected Lisgar’s team; cities such as Sudbury and Kingston, which also have regional competitions, have seen a drop of almost half in school participants, Connors says.
Ottawa’s regional tournament avoided this by introducing junior teams and allowing schools to enter more than one team.
Connors says games “are more like a sporting event than anything. It’s cheering for teams – we’re the only group, I’m pretty sure, that ever gets noise complaints at the National Arts Centre – it gets loud, it gets sweaty, it’s really high energy.”
Lisgar improv students say they love the high energy and positive attitude.
Michaelides says the team’s coach would tell them, “It doesn’t matter how you do. Have a great 16 minutes and hopefully you’ll get another 16 minutes.”
The Canadian Improv Games National Festival will take place over the last week of March at the National Arts Centre, with the top five teams competing for the 2013 title on March 30.