Getting on stage in front of an audience for a theatrical performance is something few people have the nerves to accomplish.
Even less people have the backbone to go in front of that same audience without having memorized lines. But for the Cambrian Players improv group, it’s all just part of the job.
The local theatre group formed in 2009 and has grown since then. Around 15 people make up the assemble that aims to put on a scriptless hour-and-a-half show.
Every show has a loose structure and all the scenes are done off the cuff, so it’s critical that all the members keep a sharp wit about them.
Chris Brown joined the troupe about a year ago and one of the newest members.
“I hit the ground running and I haven’t ever wanted to go away since,” the 21-year-old Lakehead University student says.
“I’ve always been kind of a spontaneous and act out kind of guy. This is a great outlet. Anyone can join. That’s the great thing about it. We’re getting new people coming and going. Those two hours on Sunday you always look forward to. You can just let loose and kind of be yourself.”
Every scene is random and Brown says depending on who he works with, what they perform could be different every single time. Sometimes a scene works, but when it doesn’t Brown says that’s just another part of being in improv.
“It’s OK to fail,” he says.
One of Brown’s favourite games is called channel surfing.
The actors involved act out different channels that are suggested by the audience. Whether it’s the history channel or the cooking channel, the performers only have a split second to decide what they will be doing before acting it out live onstage.
Brown says one of the biggest draws for joining the group was learning from its senior members.
John Welyki is one of the group’s senior members. The 30-year-old is a father to a three-year-old girl, and loves improv comedy. He joined about eight months after the group formed.
Through his experiences with improv in high school, and from watching shows like Whose Line is It Anyways?, Welyki says he thought it was something he could do and could enjoy.
But it wasn’t easy.
Welyki says he hit a few rough patches at the beginning of his career.
“Everyone’s first reaction is gagging and telling jokes that already exist and setting up puns,” he says. “Improv comedy is not that. It’s literally finding new and interesting funny things to say in the moment. There’s no preparation except for getting your energy up and going on stage.”
A common theme with all forms of comedy including improv is having a good flow. Welyki says if someone stops and thinks about telling a joke then their thinking too much.
His philosophy is that the first thing that pops into your head is probably the right one.
Welyki’s role at the group’s leader diminished a bit when his daughter was born, but the improv comic says he jumps back into the role whenever he can.
“It’s very much run by a committee on the most part,” he says. “There’s people that step up to take the leadership reins. You can’t lead it unless you’ve done it.”
Nicole Armstrong, who co-founded the group, says they saw a need within the community to form an improv group. Armstrong, who acted in a number of Cambrian plays, says one day they all came together on a Sunday and started what would become the improv group.
Since the group’s genesis in 2009, Armstrong says they’re at their strongest now.
The group has been approached by schools and by organizations because improv is stimulating for the mind, she says.
“We’re all die hards,” she says. “We can’t wait to share the laughter with everyone.”
The group performs on May 16th at the Paramount Theatre from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information visit the group’s Facebook page.
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