By Adrian Kiva
Hi, I’m Adrian and I’m an improviser.
I’ve been doing improv with the Canadian Improv Games since I first came to Lisgar in grade nine. Improv has been a big part of my time here at Lisgar, creating opportunities, friendships, and experiences. I have learned a lot about myself, and I have been changed in a big way because of it.
A quick primer: The Canadian Improv Games (CIG) is a national charitable organization. Founded in 1977, it is the largest and most geographically dispersed theatre festival in Canada. The CIG format puts four or five teams from different schools onstage, and then lets them take turns improvising four-minute scenes for most of the night. These scenes are played in different styles (such as the story event or the character event) and always involve a suggestion from the audience. The shows are competitive, and the teams are scored based on their performance by a panel of judges. The judges evaluate based on a lot of things, some technical (position on the stage), some related specifically to the event (a good story arc in the story event, for example), and some very improv specific (properly using your suggestion or accepting the reality put forward by your team-mates). At the end of the night the scores are read out and everyone gets all emotional. It’s super touching and stuff.
Lisgar has a history of doing well at the games. In the past, we have won the national tournament, and we often take home the regional trophy. Actually, each year I’ve been on this team, we’ve finished higher and higher in the standings, going from fourth at the regional tournament in 2011 (which was a heartbreaker, because only the top three teams from Ottawa qualify for nationals), to fourth at the national tournament last year, after winning the regional tournament.
This standard of excellence could in part be due to where we’re located: each year, Ottawa hosts the national tournament, and Ottawa teams regularly make it to national finals. Canterbury, All Saints, and Glebe all put on a good show, and there’s a longstanding rivalry between all of us, which is funny because every time I see them I can’t help but smile. At the end of the night, whatever the scores, everyone is in this together.
For me personally, it’s much less about the numbers. Improv is a funny thing, this competitive theatre activity existing somewhere between sport and old-fashioned performance art, so there’s a bit of a question of identity when it comes to the CIG. It’s highly competitive, but everyone is excessively co-operative and supportive of each other, no matter which school they’re from. Actually, one of the things I look forward to the most is the national tournament. Outside of the nights of play, all the improvisers from across the country meet up and do workshops together, and we go dancing, and we show everyone around Ottawa, and we hang out at their hotel (they stay at the Holiday Inn right by our school). It’s just a really good time – like you’ve been thrown into a sea of insta-friends.
But the main thing I associate with this activity is practicing after school in the drama room. It’s probably criminal that I’ve gone this long writing about improv without bringing up the name of the one person who, to me, is the embodiment of improv and all things wonderful: Ms. K.
Kathleen Klassen has been coaching improv longer than I’ve been forming coherent sentences. She’s seen more improv dynasties and more misfit teenagers come and go than anyone I know, and she really is the best. Among the many exceptional teachers at Lisgar, Ms. K definitely gets her fair share of hero worship, but I guarantee it is entirely justified because she is such a wonderful role model. This lady is spunky, energetic, zany, wise, caring, nurturing, and incredibly fun, and she, more than any teacher at Lisgar, has defined my high school experience, which is something for which I can never be thankful enough. She takes the time to find and raise up potential improvisers, and, if Lisgar improv were a recipe for success, then Ms. K would be the secret ingredient.
In our practices, we spend long hours running improv scenes and doing warm-ups and exercises, but an equally memorable aspect of the time we spend in the drama room is spent on discussion. Ms. K gets us talking about our lives, our hopes, our fears. And we all open up to her and to each other. Next to my family, the people who know me best are the people who improvise with me. As a child, my family moved a lot, so I have very few old friends, but spend a year improvising and you’ll feel like you have seven incredible old friends and one amazing mentor.
Looking back is great, but it’s also wonderful how much there is to look forward to. I’m writing this after watching the Lisgar Junior improv team take home the gold this weekend. This is the second year of the junior tournament, and the second year Lisgar has won. Having a junior circuit is great because it gets students improvising earlier on and introduces them to the games in a light-hearted way. The improv community continues to grow and foster excellence and confidence and joy in high-schoolers across Canada. Everyone it touches is left better for it, and it truly is a blessing.
I’m now reaching the end of this journey. These incredible four years lie behind me. Four years of high school accentuated by four years of incredible improv. Four years that I will take with me everywhere I go. Next week we perform on the Theatre stage of the NAC for regional finals, and we’ll be looking for a spot in the top three to qualify for nationals, which are immediately after. I’m feeling incredibly pumped and nostalgic. And I want to thank the Canadian Improv Games and all the wonderful volunteers. And I want to thank the four teams that have been the best to me. And I want to thank Ms. K, above all. Thank you. I’ve had a great time.
Adrian and the team are performing Monday, April 14th at 7:30pm at the NAC. Tickets are available online and are being sold in the Lisgar main hall and at the NAC. Nationals are from the 15th-19th with finals being held Saturday the 20th.
For more information, visit http://improv.ca/regions/ottawa-on/