March Madness? Follow Your Impulse

2011 March 24
by Kevin Pinkoski



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March Madness is just about underway. Except on the UBC campus, the madness will mean giving up slam-dunks, angry coaches and 3-point shots for one thing: a festival of hilarious improvised comedy.

Coordinated by UBCimprov, Impulse International Improv Festival is one of only a few Canadian university improv festivals. Celebrating its third year running, this year’s festival is a complete shift from Impulse’s previous years. Festival Coordinators and UBC improv co-presidents Brandon Yan and Nick Harvey-Cheetham (pictured above) set out to make this year’s festival a chance to create a bridge that will join together university-aged performers from all over. Harvey-Cheetham elaborates on exactly what this year’s festival is all about: “The festival celebrates university improv in all its forms. Over four nights of performances and countless workshops, our goal is to highlight all of the amazing young improv talent in Canada and beyond.”

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Instant Gratification

2011 January 5
by Kaitlin Fontana

The Birth of Vancouver’s Instant Shop

It’s unassuming, at least at first—a little storefront on a quieter strip of Vancouver’s East Broadway, painted white inside. Cruising past the cluster of businesses around it, which include a convenience store, cake shop and Ethiopian restaurant, you might not even notice the shop at first. Closer up, it’s a little harder to ignore. In 650A E. Broadway there is, for example, the cool, handmade wooden front counter/bar area. Then there are the rows of t-shirt hangers on one wall. On the opposite wall, the beginnings of a cool, marshland-themed mural by local artist extraordinaire Ehren Salazar. And there’s a foosball table, too. Every once in awhile someone presses their face to the glass, craning for a better look. This is the Instant Shop, and its proprietor Alistair Cook nods at anyone curious enough to peek in.

Cook has been hustling for the last few months to spruce up the place, which he discovered on a walk through the neighbourhood (he lives just around the corner). With nearly twenty years of improv experience under his belt, and a lot of renovation chops built up from remodeling his own home, he saw the storefront as a potential home base for Instant Theatre, the local alternative improv company he’s helmed since 1994.

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Be a VIIP (Very Important Improv Person): Join the VIIF 200!

2010 July 15
by Kaitlin Fontana

The 11th Annual Vancouver International Improv Festival takes place October 5-9, 2010 at the beautiful Performance Works Theatre on Granville Island.

It’s been an amazing decade, and we wouldn’t be here without the support of our community, our sponsors, and most of all you, our audience.

This year VIIF, like many BC-based arts organizations, watched our government funding vanish into thin air. BC now only designates $4.50 per person towards arts funding, which is less than 20% of the national average, and the lowest in the country. (For more information, may we recommend Stop BC Arts Cuts?)

Improvisers are, by nature, creatures of action. That’s why, in the spirit of our friends at Ghost Jail Theatre and their fundraising initiative, the Ghost Jail 100, we’re asking for your help with the VIIF 200. We want 200 people to give $20 each, an amount of money that makes up for lost provincial funding.

What does your $20 buy? The venue, for one. The refreshments for guests like yourselves. The staff. But moreso: your $20 helps pay the artists’ fees to bring great improvisers to the fest from all over the world. It pays the directors to travel here and teach. And it allows those improvisers and directors to take what they’ve learned and created back to their own communities across the globe.

In other words, your $20 does something incredible: It recognizes the value of theatre and art in the community, in Canada, and internationally.

But it doesn’t stop there—$20 is a generous donation, but we welcome your contributions at any level. Take a look at the options at our donation site, and feel free to email us at with any questions you might have.

If you’d prefer to send your donation directly, please make a cheque out to the Vancouver Improv Festival Society and send it with your name and address to:

610 E. 13th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V5T 2L1

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Welcome to the VIIF 200.

The Best and the Borderless: Rapid Fire’s Kevin Gillese leaves Edmonton; joins Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage

2010 February 1
by Tom Hill

Kevin Gillese becomes Artistic Director of Dad's Garage TheatreKevin Gillese is moving away from Edmonton’s Rapid Fire Theatre, the organization he describes as “the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole life,” to take over as Artistic Director of Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.  Yet despite the pressures of getting adjusted to a new city, a new apartment, and a new high pressure job all at once, Gillese is brimming with positivity.   “It’s a cold snap here and it’s -5 degrees Celsius,” Gillese says proudly, “in Edmonton it’s -45 degrees Celsius. I feel like I won the lottery.”

In fact at first blush, Gillese’s move—not to mention the decision of Dad’s Garage to move him—seems like a gamble.  Indeed, plucking an Artistic Director from a Canadian theatre like Rapid Fire and planting him at the helm of a larger company in the American South is, as Gillese himself points out, “crazy. Atlanta is closer to Cuba than Canada.”  Geographically distant though they may be, however, Rapid Fire and Dad’s Garage have a history that reveals a method to the seeming madness, and explains much of the artistic symbiosis that has landed Gillese in his sub-tropical paradise.

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The Vancouver International Improv Festival Presents…the relaunch!

2009 September 30
by Kaitlin Fontana


As you’ve probably noticed, is undergoing a much-needed facelift. This is a time of great excitement for us, and a lot of changes are going to be rolled out over the next while.

Since this week is the Vancouver International Improv Festival, which is in part presented by, we thought it was an appropriate time to see these changes start to take effect. And, since we love circularity, we’d like to announce that the VIIF is proudly presenting our relaunch. We’re going to have an official party and everything very soon, but in the meantime, feel free to bask in our new site, and to visit the Submissions page for information on how you can get involved in

Thanks for joining us. We hope to see you at the VIIF shows (if you’re in Vancouver) and we look forward to bringing you a whole bunch of new content and great features in the weeks and months to come.

Take care, and keep reading and improvising!


Doing it Write

2009 June 16
by Kaitlin Fontana

Ghost Jail and the smarter side of improv

Thank goodness for strangers, and thank goodness for strange lands. For if not for these things, then Toronto’s Ghost Jail Theatre Company might have never come to be. They may never have become a thriving weekly show and a not-for-profit with designs on Canada-wide domination. They may never have been named after Pac Man.

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Good Sports

2009 January 18

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Vancouver TheatreSports League, past, present and future

Every day, hundreds of Vancouverites walk past the first home of Vancouver TheatreSports League. Some even go in. And some order forty-nine cent hamburgers. Downtown on Thurlow Street once stood the City Stage, the first place that a comedy-loving theatregoer could see TheatreSports in Vancouver proper. And now, it’s a McDonald’s.

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You Can’t Keep a Good Bad Dog Down

2008 October 17
by Kaitlin Fontana

How Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre Company beat all the odds

On 138 Danforth Street in Toronto, you will find the home of Bad Dog Theatre Company. Open since 2003, the venue boasts a 60-seat house and two training studios. According to Artistic Director Marcel St. Pierre, however, Bad Dog’s home base has another name altogether. “We lovingly call the theatre ‘The House that Harry Patter Built,’” he says. “That show did keep us going that first year.” Like most young improv companies, Bad Dog was finding its feet, battling for funding and trying to pull in an audience. But there are the normal problems, and then there are the extraordinary ones, and Bad Dog was up against something worthy of Voldemort when SARS broke out in 2003. For a company that was fighting for its then-infant life in a city that was virtually under lockdown, the ubiquitous boy wizard was a gift from the theatre gods. Harry Patter attracted an audience that improv shows rarely see: kids and their parents. And so Bad Dog was born.

Five years on, Bad Dog boasts a schedule most improv companies would die for: an average of five nights of shows per week, sometimes even seven. Many of these are parodies, like Patter—whatever happens to be under the public’s pop culture lens at the moment. Recently, they closed a Battlestar Galactica show, as well as a popular medical drama called Hot Doctors in Love. “My character became a vampire in it,” says St. Pierre, with a laugh. That’s what the kids are thinking about, it would seem. The parody formula is Bad Dog’s key to keeping audiences coming back. “It’s definitely something we borrowed from Vancouver,” St. Pierre says, referring to Vancouver TheatreSports League’s shared parody predilection. To wit: Bad Dog just ran Vancouverite (of Urban Improv, and a recent Toronto transplant) Diana Frances’ A Twisted Christmas Carol. St. Pierre loves the collaboration: “We have a wonderful relationship with those folks [in Vancouver].”




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But while parody might have built Bad Dog, it’s not the only thing that sustains it. The company also has a healthy Harold night—run autonomously, St. Pierre points out, by James Gangl and Carmine Lucarelli—and the theatre is Toronto’s flagship TheatreSports venue. Keeping the thirty-year-old art form of TheatreSports fresh and lively is another job that Bad Dog takes seriously. “We let it grow and change,” St. Pierre says. “It’s not the games that keep it relevant. It’s the improvisers themselves.”

It’s this outlook, which is both simple and refreshing, that sustains Bad Dog: the company puts all of its stock in people. The people who are already there, sweating volunteer hours, and the people who might show up on their doorstep tomorrow. St. Pierre puts it this way: “I try to keep the place very open and welcoming to other improv schools of thought and other improvisers. We’re always trying to be a leader, but really maintaining an open-door policy.” St. Pierre is quick to say that he doesn’t see other Toronto groups as being exclusive; it’s just that he wishes the occasional negativity that rolls through the scene didn’t happen. “It doesn’t matter what improv company you support,” he sums up. “The fact that you’re supporting improv is good for everybody.”

To see how they cultivated this faith in humanity, it pays to look back at Bad Dog’s history. The detailed version is available on their website, but essentially, Bad Dog sprung forth from the remains of Toronto TheatreSports (which was sliding out of notice as Second City gained momentum in the ‘90s) and combined with the big ideas of


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St. Pierre and Kerry Griffin, who visited Chicago



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’s Annoyance Theatre on the eve of its 10
th Anniversary. The visit was eye opening. “It was just this collective of people who all worked together and loved the theatre,” St. Pierre recalls. To him, the key was settling down: if TheatreSports Toronto was going to survive in some capacity, it needed to stop moving. Together with Griffin and Bad Dog’s General Manager and workshop director Ralph MacLeod, he lobbied the board for a theatre, and for the money to lease it. They got the money, and five years later, they’re still here. And while Patter helped, it wasn’t magic that kept Bad Dog’s doors open—it was the people, and their energy.

Going forward, St. Pierre says, the company is hoping to put on their second annual improv summit—a small get-together of improv companies and performers from across the country—next year. They’re also seeking a permanent home, and to put together an actual season. The latter is a goal that St. Pierre acknowledges is difficult for any improv theatre, especially one that is fed by new, up and coming people as well as the ideas floating around in pop culture. Still, if any company can do it, Bad Dog would seem to be it. After all, if you can weather SARS, what can’t you do?

It’s no small feat, to be a thriving, independent improv entity on Second

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City’s territory, and in one of the most improv-thick cities in the world, to boot. As Bad Dog performer Jan Caruana puts it, “In the Toronto scene, there is so much out there. It’s often hard for a show to find its audience, and it’s impossible to see everything.” But improvisers visiting Bad Dog can be assured that the door to the House That Harry Patter Built is open, and that they will always be welcome. As for St. Pierre, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon—improv is his calling. “I found this journal I’d written in college recently,” he says. “I talked about going and checking out Loose Moose in Calgary


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Second City. And I’d completely forgotten about it.” And then twenty-odd years passed, and here he is. “You do what you’re supposed to do, I guess.”

Fooler Than You

2008 August 4
by Kaitlin Fontana

Ten years of the General Fools

Last year, Regina’s General Fools celebrated their tenth year. To mark the occasion, they decided to put on a show. Makes sense for an improv theatre company—but the Fools’ Jayden Pfeifer was a little worried. “We were all over the place. We had basically taken a year off, and the tenth anniversary could have been very eye opening,” he says. And not necessarily in a good way.

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All Fired Up

2008 June 21
by Kaitlin Fontana

Kevin Gillese on Rapid Fire Theatre, Scratch and why Edmonton improv is king

In Edmonton, there’s only one name in improv: Rapid Fire Theatre. And few people have a personal and professional history so entwined with Rapid Fire as Kevin Gillese. As Rapid Fire marks a transitional point in its history, so does Gillese, the improviser. What better time to talk about both?

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