The Art of Spontaneity
8th Annual MPROV Festival Features Worldwide Theatre Talent
Improvisation is a special brand of comedy.
It can make your cheeks hurt from laughing while watching re-runs of the classic show Whose Line Is It Anyway. It can make you cringe at dinner parties when relatives attempt and fail at humour. And it can often surprise you when improv performers onstage can think of jokes in an instant that are even funnier than stand-up jokes worked on and perfected over weeks.
The coming of autumn brings with it the arrival of the eighth annual Mprov festival, which celebrates the improvisational community in Montreal and features guests from around the world.
For those unfamiliar, improvisational comedy or theatre is a form of theatre in which performers put together a sketch or think up a story spontaneously in real-time—the jokes or plot are made up the moment they’re performed.
Traditional scripts are tossed out the window in favour of spur-of-the-moment ideas onstage. Performers will generally decide on a format beforehand and use audience suggestions to fuel their imaginations and build the content of the show upon, but everything is thought up on the spot.
The Mprov festival has grown considerably since its humble beginnings as a small get-together of improv groups.
“It wasn’t thought to be a festival of much size,” said Marc Rowland, co-director of the festival.
“On the Spot [a group of Montreal improvisers] and Bad Dog from Toronto […] were just looking for a way to promote a series of shows with guests.
“But the idea caught on and other improvisers were like, ‘What, a festival? We want in,’” he continued. “So On the Spot were obliged to keep it going and to have more people involved the next year. It was started almost by accident.”
With the festival growing and more guests hopping onboard each year, Rowland and friend François Vincent eventually took the reins and made it official.
“I think it was in the third year […] we made the festival into a proper entity and we became directors,” said Rowland. “We made it into a registered company basically and it went from there.”
The festival has switched venues almost yearly, hosting at The Comedy Nest, the Montreal Comedy Works, MainLine Theatre and Théâtre Sainte Catherine before finding a home at the newly renovated of the Montreal Improv Theatre on St. Laurent Blvd.
“We’ve been growing and growing and we need a bigger space [so] we can fill more seats,” says Rowland.
In all 35 troupes—some of whom hail from as far away as Paris—will bring their comedic skills to the Mprov stage. Performances will feature a mix of English and French.
“One of the major goals is to finally incorporate more francophone shows,” says Rowland.
“We’ve been developing relationships with francophone performers so now we will finally have a French [series].”
Improv workshops will also be available on the weekends to anyone wanting to learn improv or to perfect their skills.
Workshops include “An Athlete’s Guide to Improv,” comparing team sports to improv, an acting workshop and a miming workshop that demonstrates its uses in theatre.
It all makes for a festival that has received only glowing reviews from its performers.
“A festival of this type gives the performers an opportunity to really immerse themselves in Montreal’s improv community,” said veteran performer Joe Conto of local troupes Dream Hunks and Pillow Fight.
“New audience members can be introduced to the art of improv during a nearly two-week run where high-energy and excitement abound; loyal fans will be able to see their Montreal improv favourites performing in ways they may not have seen before.”
Montreal Mprov Festival // Oct. 1 to Oct. 12 // Montreal Improv Theatre (3697 St. Laurent Blvd.) // 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. // $50 festival pass, $6 to $12 door per show // Email email@example.com to participate in the festival workshops.