August 8, Guy MacPherson, The Georgia Straight
Shows come and go at the Improv Centre on Granville Island. While improv comedy is the backbone of every production and makes every performance different, no parody or theme overstays its welcome.
The good folks at Vancouver TheatreSports League unveiled two new weekly offerings recently: OK Tinder—Swipe Right Comedy, which, as you might guess, focuses on the foibles of dating, and Firecracker!, with an all-female cast and one guest star each week.
Online dating seemed to me like a thin excuse for a show, but it made for one of the best I’ve seen in a long while on the Island. Right off the bat, this premise breathed some new life into two tired old games. I’ve never cared for the gimmicky ‘Speak as One,’ where two players tell a story at the same time. The ‘One Word at a Time’ format, where two players alternate words to tell a story, is better, but has also been done to death. What set this apart is seeing the two games in the same scene, with each twosome portraying one side of an online dialogue between two prospective daters.
There was a quick-hitting series of vignettes after the improvisers made up original dating apps on the spot, and an ‘Inner Thoughts’ scene where Ken Lawson and Margret Nyfors provided the voice-overs from the minds of Allen Morrison and Liz Bowen on a first date. The finale worked perfectly, too. The actors left the room and audience members volunteered to read out the last message they received on a dating app. These were written down and scattered on the floor. Each scene had to begin with one of these sentences, such as “So you like reading. Let me spread your legs like a book.” Suffice it to say, this wasn’t a family show.
Firecracker!, on the night I went, wasn’t nearly as successful, seeming to have no structure or point. The show is tailored to the special guest, so it’s even more different each time than other improv shows. Supernatural actor Briana Buckmaster dove right in and acted with the cast. Being a former VTSL player, she knew what she was doing, but the games seemed thrown together.
That being said, there were highlights. One scene was directed from the booth by sound improviser extraordinaire Laura Skelton. She was ruthless in her instructions, asking one player, “What are you? Why don’t you be the person who leaves?” and saying to another who entered wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses, “This better be good.” Skelton should direct a scene in every single production.
The bulk of the show was improv based on karaoke. The crowd would warble to the backing tracks of ‘Mamma Mia’ by ABBA, ‘Hello’ by Adele, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler, ‘Everybody’ by the Backstreet Boys, and ‘Ice Ice Baby’ by whoever sang ‘Ice Ice Baby,’ for example, which would lead to multiple scenes based (loosely) on the lyrics. The segment probably went on too long, given that Firecracker! isn’t billed as a karaoke show, but I could totally see a whole evening of sing-along-based improv in the future.