“Not to put down magicians, but magicians are very good con men,” explains Caitlin Howden, trying to reframe her slightly terrifying craft of improv into a metaphor we can all understand. “Whereas improv is kind of like people who are trying to be magicians but they never learned any of the tricks. I genuinely hope magic happens and I’m just as surprised when it does as you are.”
With nothing up their sleeves, no plants and no scripts, the trick that every improviser constantly struggles to pull off is creating comedy from nothing. And as a member of Vancouver’s The Sunday Service, one of the many improv troupes descending on Edmonton this week to participate in Rapid Fire Theatre’s annual Improvaganza festival, Howden wants to be very clear—nothing about their shows is premeditated.
“We actually haven’t done any thinking or strategizing or planning of the show,” reinforces Howden. “People are always convinced—’Oh, well … you guys planned that a little bit right?’ And it’s like, ‘My God, if we had planned it, don’t you think we wouldn’t have a dragon saving the city three times in a row?'”
But Improvaganza isn’t just another night of spontaneous hilarity, with a few special guests, down at The Citadel Theatre. The improv festival conjures up 11 days of stories and scenes, pulling together teams from as far away as Toronto, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Bogotá and Rome. As Howden describes it, it’s an improv summit, featuring a gloriously diverse range of games, stand-up and long-form improv.
Surrounded by improv wizardry, the magic is practically guaranteed to happen at Improvaganza, regardless of whether or not one particular team member is having a #killingit kind of night.
“You can be the worst that night,” Howden says, “but the chances are, when the three other people on stage see that you’re being the worst, they’ll be able to be like, ‘OK, I’ve got you. I’ll save you. I’ll get you out of this scene.’ So even if one person is having an off night it really doesn’t matter because another [improviser] will make them look good and then the audience is none-the-wiser. And that’s why you’re best friends.
“It’s the closest thing to a gang I will ever be in,” she continues. “I know that I can go to any city and if there’s an improviser in that city, I can stay on their couch, that they will take me to a bar and if they’ve got a show on, they’re like ‘Yeah, come do this show.’ It really is the closest thing, perhaps, to some sort of non-violent gang.”
A non-violent, super funny, kind of goofy, gang—and they’re invading Edmonton just to make you laugh. And after 14 years of participating in improv-gang-related activities, Howden has developed a pretty brazen attitude about life on and off stage.
“There are no real rules,” she advises. “Anyone who tells you that life has to be a certain way or that being 31 is a certain way or being an improviser is X, Y and Z or being a female improviser means you have to be this, this or this—there is no one making up any of these rules and you can really do whatever the fuck you want.”
Until Sat, Jun 28
Citadel Theatre, $15 – $20
Schedule at rapidfiretheatre.com