June 28, 2016 The Vancouver Sun by Stuart Derdeyn
THE BIG PICTURE – AN IMPROVISED MOVIE
The Big Picture — An Improvised Movie is the latest freewheeling comedy-adventure to come from the minds of the folks at Vancouver TheatreSports League. It’s an audience-participation creation of new blockbusters from classic or not-so-classic films. The show format was devised by VTSL artistic associates Nathan Clark and Bill Pozzobon.
“We are always looking for a new show format that can keep crowds coming back, and at February’s Valentine’s Day Massacre there was a jam session where a group improvised movies and it was totally great so we decided to go with that,” says Clark.
“We’ve chosen to pitch five genres to the audience in the first part of the show — western, sci-fi, action-adventure, romantic comedy and horror. So a player will represent each genre and we’ll see a scene from that and then the audience will decide what genre they want for the movie in the second half.”
Then the fun really begins as the company gets going on deconstructing great moments from genre classics and putting them together into a mashed-up film. Anything goes, and the audience knows it can offer up suggestions as things go along. You think the Council of Elrond in Lord of the Rings would be better if it took place in the classroom from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? OK.
“The improv skill set is firmly there but we definitely need to brush up on the specific genres, so we are asking the cast to get an idea of how the stories go in classics of each,” said Pozzobon. “The more well-versed you are, the more you are able to pull things in and the more specific the moments you can improvise around, the better for the cast and the audience.”
What keeps Clark going after 16 years is that Vancouver TheatreSports League is always fresh and challenging. The members all are dedicated to seat-of-your-pants spontaneity and the goal is fun.
“In improv, we are idea generators and everyone has a million ideas and so many sound so good,” said 20-year veteran Pozzobon. “Whatever the best idea is, it’s the one we go with and the movie thing was an instant hit with everyone. Hopefully, it’s the same with the audience.”
From the outside looking in, you get the impression that there couldn’t be a suggested show theme topic that wouldn’t work. Both laugh at that. There have been some spectacular fails.
“Years back, one of the senior players made a decision in a show that each scene would take as long as it took to eat a certain thing,” said Clark. “He had been to Army & Navy and purchased a meter-long, incredibly spicy garlic pepperoni and within minutes he was sweating and choking trying to eat this thing,”
“He was folding it up into pieces to try to eat it faster and we eventually called it for fear of his health,” said Pozzobon. “But, in the end, it was really funny for the audience anyways. Because one of our main tenets is that we are all-in with any idea and they could see we were doing everything we could to make it work while he clogged his arteries.”
There is a fine line between the players having too much fun and the audience not getting in on the joke. For a perfect show to take place, the players need to be something like the straight men in a duo gag. When they break character and crack up as they did in the pepperoni incident is rare.
Since its founding in 1980, Vancouver TheatreSports League has produced celebrated alumni such as Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles. The company runs its own theatre with 11 shows a week, 52 weeks a year. Ranging from Improv After Dark and regular TheatreSports to the all-female Firecracker! and Rookie Night, over 60,000 attend performances at the Improv Centre on Granville Island.