Depending on your perspective, improvisational theatre is either a craft that must be mastered, or a natural calling that is instantly discovered as the situation demands it. After viewing a thrilling duel between teams Prom King and Skirt in Bad Dog Theatre’s longstanding program, Theatresports, I can safely assure that timid tabbies out there will be inspired by the spontaneous creativity this wonderful cast delivers and its empowering realness to boot.
To preface this theatrical genre for possible newcomers, our host of the evening’s events Thomas MacKay opened with a brief introduction to what short-form improvised comedy entails: fast-paced, predetermined activities in which audience members are either asked simple questions to kick-start scenarios for the actors, or are prompted for suggestions during scenes to steer the scattered narratives in virtually any direction. In the case of Theatresports, the rounds are organized into skit challenges that one or both teams partake in for points. Scores for each performance are awarded on a scale of one to five based on the spectators’ democratic vote.
Our sassily energetic competitors consisted of Ashley Botting, Alastair Forbes, Aaron Read and Colin Munch forming Team Skirt, and Alice Stratford-Kurus, Hans Krause and Callum Wratten uniting as Team Prom King. They presented ten challenges in the span of an hour, starting off with "Attack on Monologue" as an ensemble. In this game, the audience agrees on a title of the monologue (ours was “Day of Reckoning”), and the actors take turns contributing to one speech ad libitum according to the titled topic. During a speaker’s turn, the next participant in line can interrupt them at any time and take over if they have an idea for the following form of expression. This made for a fascinating schizophrenic trip, as the dialogue went from conveying somewhat coherent thoughts to non-contextually addressing imaginary characters. The act earned a 4/5 from onlookers.
Team Skirt issued the next challenge, called “Should’ve Said”. In this challenge,two of the actors (Botting and Munch) freely enact a scene until an audience member yells out “should’ve said” in disapproval of a particular line they heard, and the line will continuously get paraphrased for acceptance. Of the entire show, this was the weakest performance, as the constant interjections by audience members quickly broke the immersion for me. Nonetheless, both Botting’s makeshift Irish accent and Munch’s saucy attitude warranted a 4/5.
Prom King then proposed a sweet deal, whereby they invited a couple from the audience to be the judges of their own “First Date," as portrayed by Stratford-Kurus and Wratten. Whenever they’d randomly hear accurate details about their actual first date, the woman of the couple would ring a bell. If the details were inaccurate, the man would cross his arms and create buzzing sounds. I found it hilariously adorable at the end when Stratford-Kurus complimented Wratten on his hockey skills and the man rang the bell for his girlfriend. This cutesy comeback gained a 3.8/5.
Prom King executed another challenge titled “Love and Condiments,” based on popular opinion that refrigerators remind people of old things. Krause, Stratford-Kurus and Wratten were all to speak their lines according to the number of words they were each assigned to include in a sentence. This resulted in a twisted tale of food poisoning, troubled marriages and dinosaurs, sprinkled with grammatically incorrect dialogue. It earned a 4/5 for its sheer absurdity and the characters' surrender to marriage.
Team Skirt then tasked the audience with creating personas based on presumed personalities of three chosen dinosaurs. Forbes, Read and Munch would then switch between the roles of a slow yet determined brontosaurus, a violently impatient velociraptor ready to duke it out with brontosaurus, and a frantic dimetrodon that only wants them to get along. Although there was a fair bit of pausing and stuttering, all three actors made up for it with their side-splitting animalistic instincts. The highlight of this prehistoric showdown was dimetrodon’s plot twist confession to killing mom. 4/5 for the fossilized foes.
The next two challenges were dedicated to Bad Dog patron Eric Logan. Skirt’s gift to Logan was my favourite skit of the night, in which Munch would respond to Botting using only Logan’s text messages to his sister. It was Botting’s shocked reactions and dramatic pleads to Munch’s seductively casual reading of the texts that won me over. I wanted this scene to earn a five, but it sadly only got a four.
Prom King retaliated with three simultaneous scenes about beaver scouts, a sailboat owner who fails to remember his daughter and divas fighting over queen bee status. This one got a five, but it only deserved a four in my books because Wratten’s noble suicide as an honourable beaver scout depressed me.
MacKay then posed a “Daddy-O Challenge” to both teams. An Aussie-turned-orphan Wratten and his equally orphaned companion Stratford-Kurus tried unsuccessfully to photograph a fruit basket salesman in Machu Picchu, and ended up getting adopted by him, while volcano cops Munch and Botting stopped at nothing to frame father-son duo Forbes and Read for drunkenly rollerblading alongside a volcano. While both premises were silly, unexpected and strangely endearing, Skirt got the perfect score for its pretzel bread narrative – Munch faked his death by ‘throwing himself into lava’ and sent in Botting as 12-year-old Cindy to charm the perpetrators, but this backfired and they revealed themselves, sealing their fates in the depths of lava.
And for the finale: minute-long lightening rounds of bingo players at a cemetery, a reenactment of The Wizard of Oz, and talk show interviews with topics given by the audience. Grueling minutes had passed, and Prom King came out on top, although both teams did a fantastic job of carrying out surrealistically creative stories with minimal ideas, projecting their voices and fleshing out animated movements and facial expressions. One actor in particular who I felt was less exaggerated, yet peculiarly charming in his brand of subtle humor was Forbes. His style helped to bring variety and balance out the over-the-top drama.
The set was made up of a wooden backdrop, benches and chairs for actors and other participants to sit on. I’m glad they kept it simple, as I found the actors’ miming of actions and objects effectively imaginative and non-constraining. Keyboardist Tony Smith directed the musical improvisation. Bouncy yet light, his playing blended gently into the background so as not to distract from the action on stage. Youth coordinator Scott Lloyd provided the lighting and sound, consisting of a single spotlight and popular culture music in between fade-outs. While the use of a single light worked to accentuate the happenings onstage, the music was a bit too loud for a small theatre space.
Despite the pressures that come with impromptu acting, the cast as a whole remained flexible, level-headed and open-minded throughout the company’s flagship production. The camaraderie between the teammates and the high crowd engagement created the vibe of a real sporting event. For those of you looking for a good time, grab a beer and get ready to cheer!
Theatresports comedy shows run every Saturday at 8 pm at The Bad Dog Theatre Company, located on 875 Bloor Street West. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students. They can either be purchased online at baddogtheatre.com/theatresports or at the box office, which is open from Tuesday to Saturday between 6-10 pm and can be reached by calling 416-491-3115.