Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Humble Beginnings by Bill Nance

It was in the Spring of 1989 that a bold idea took shape in the brain of Clark M. Clark, thespian and all-around good guy. I had met Clark several months before; we appeared together in "the Hunting of The Snark" at The South Island Zone Theatre Festival.
We found that we each had an interest in comedy, but, although I had vaguely heard of improvisation, I didn't really know what it was or what went into it. Fortunately Clark did. I was quite the gadabout at that point in my life, floating between jobs and looking for fame and -more importantly-fortune in the world of acting. So, when Clark mentioned that Langham Court Theatre was looking for backstage help and walk-on roles, I  agreed eagerly to lend a hand.
As anyone who has ever been involved in a theatrical production will know, the rehearsal process, while thrilling and creative, has moments of tedium as well. It was during one of these "waiting for things to happen" periods that Clark raised the idea of starting an improv troupe. Agreeable soul that I was, I happily offered to go along for the ride. And what a ride it has turned out to be, my prettys.
Fast forward to late Summer '89. Clark had ads and posters advertising the auditions. I chipped in with legwork, postering Victoria-way fewer bylaws back then-and offering moral support and enthusiasm. We even had a venue; Clark had settled on the Fernwood Community Association. Only one thing was missing. The players. Would anybody show? Or would it be over before it started? The big day arrived. Saturday. 9:30 am. Emotions tumbled together: Hope. Fear.  Anticipation. Finally, the door opened and in walked one-no, two!-auditioners. Soon came a third. A fourth! Eventually there were seven: bright-eyed and eager to get started. Their names still resonate with me. Phil. Dan. Erin. Another Phil. Joan. Noel. Doug.
The initial workshops-we called them rehearsals back then-involved introductory exercises, some basic character work, and Trust games. It turned out that Phil #1, his brother Dan, and Erin, as well as Clark himself, all had a background in TheatreSports (tm) and so it didn't take long before we were working on simple games: Freeze Tag, Line Story, Arms Debate. I blocked, wimped, and waffled my way through, feeling the initial stirrings of something which for me would be life-changing.
Oh, did I mention we had no name at this point? How did Impromaniacs get chosen? Via a rousing session of "Let's Choose A Name" on an early Saturday morning over breakfast at Humpty's (now Alzu's). Yours truly raised the Impromaniacs as a moniker idea, and to my surprise everyone liked it. It fit. We did improv, and acted like maniacs. Thus was a legend born. We did shows at a number of small venues that first winter. Audiences came. More importantly, they liked.
As 1990 moved along, so too did The Impromaniacs. We workshopped and grew as a company. We became friends. Some of the original seven departed, but most stayed, and gaps were filled by young and hungry theatre students. Julian Polzin. James McKillop. Melissa Vandershyff. By the end of the summer, we were nine and playing at The Belfry Theatre. Wow. That was nearly twenty years ago, and The Impromaniacs roll on, stronger than ever.
The company became a registered non-profit in 1992, produced The Singe Festival in 1997 and 2000, and has been the first improv company in Victoria to move away from short-form and embrace long-form. In 2003, The first Victoria International Improv Festival was produced. There have now been four, each one growing in stature and reputation. There have been Cage Matches and TheatreSports (tm). Long-form and Short-form. Hugs and Grins. And to think it all started with two guys and a flame that has refused to be extinguished.

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