Montreal Improv Explore Spontaneity for a Clock’s Full Rotation

  • Photo: Alexis Trépannier

If anything was missing from director/writer Paul Haggis’ inspirational 2004 film Crash, which features an ensemble cast of characters exploring race relations in America, it was improvisation. At least according to Montreal acting coach Kirsten Rasmussen.

The Accident, premiering this Thursday at the Montreal Improv, tells the story of six individuals whose lives are inexplicably interwoven after a fateful accident.

What the titular accident is, and what relationships exists between the characters—like parent and offspring, or mistress and gimp—is up to the audience to decide on whatever night it’s performed.

“With improv it’s about trying to get as much from the suggestions as possible so that the audience feels like it’s their show that night,” said Rasmussen, the show’s director. “No one’s going to ever see Thursday’s The Accident again in their lives,” even if it’s scheduled to be performed again on Friday and Saturday.

“It’s basically just a three-act structure, so the actors know that by the third scene they need to be gearing towards some kind of ending, and it’s up to the performers to remember everything that they’ve created that evening and to tie all the knots together.”

The actors, all pupils of the Montreal Improv acting school where Rasmussen teaches, had only three weeks to prepare, but when there’s no lines to memorize, you can hardly impose expectations of what time brings an improv group.

“[You learn to] just think on your feet and be spontaneous and then that becomes the high of it, that I don’t know what I’m going to do so I’m just going to react to whatever’s happening in the moment,” said Rasmussen.

“[You learn to] just think on your feet and be spontaneous and then that becomes the
high of it.”

—Kristen Rasmussen,
Director of The Accident

Sometimes that means reacting to an audience member’s cell phone playing Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” during a gripping emotional scene.“

Our theatre is on St. Laurent [Boulevard], so often during our shows an ambulance will drive by, and then during the show you just have to incorporate that,” she said—a luxury not possessed by Hamlet or King Lear.

Rasmussen, who currently stars in the Montreal Improv’s Honey and Dick’s Guide to Successful Living, fled to the improv scene after a brief love affair with scripted fair.

“I was just kind of looking for something that was a little more spontaneous, a little more immediate, because I was doing Shakespeare in acting school and I would look at the audience and it was all old people.

Then I would go to improv on the weekends and there [were] all these young people there,” she said. “I was drawn to it as a medium of theatre that young people enjoy.”

The Accident opens Dec. 2 at 9:30 p.m. at the Montreal Improv (3713 St. Laurent #202). Admission is $7. Honey and Dick’s Guide to Successful Living returns Dec. 18 at 8:00 p.m. Admission is $8. For these and other shows, visit montrealimprov.com.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 16, published November 30, 2010.

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