By Katrina Pyne
Thirteen Nova Scotian high school teams gathered in Halifax this week for the 10th annual Canadian improv games. The teams were competing for a chance to enter the national improv tournament in Ottawa this year.
Last year’s winners, Lockview Blue from Lockview High School in Fall River, showed up to defend their title.
But the sense of competition was drowned out by the joy that surrounds this unique event.
Haley Guest is an “improver” herself and the regional director for this year’s tournament.
“Improv is something that is about the growth of yourself and the growth of your team,” she says. “As much as this is a competition, it’s very stressed that it’s a loving competition.”
According to Guest, improv offers skills that can change the lives of students. She says over the years, she’s seen shy and introverted students turn into confident leaders at their school – all because of improv.
“It’s a skill that you really use in your day-to-day life: how to think on your feet and be confident enough to go with the flow,” says Guest. “It enables students to just be in the moment, and that’s what’s it’s all about.”
Every time it’s a team’s turn to perform, the audience shouts out suggestions on the type of skit that they want to see performed.
On Thursday night, the audience enthusiastically shouted out character traits before the improv referees decided on “ambiguous.”
Dartmouth High then told the tale of a man who was unable to make any decisions. After a tumultuous life the man died, and when his family read his will, all it said was “give all my stuff to people”.
Watch Dartmouth High’s team at the Canadian improv games create a story using the word “system”:
“It’s the audience that really fuels the scenes,” says Martin Tonner, the artistic director and head referee of the games this year. “It’s pretty awesome for someone to say something and then for the next four minutes, it’s all about that person’s suggestion, and you know these kids are just going to create magic.”
Both Tonner and Guest agree that the best improv scenes are the ones that portray real human emotions and honest to life situations.
Rebecca MacDonald is judging the competition for her first time. She was on Sir John A. Macdonald’s improv team for three of her high school years and had the opportunity to go to nationals twice.
MacDonald says that as a judge, she looks at whether what’s being acted out would matter to the audience, and whether it matters to the characters themselves. She also looks at the dynamic on the team – whether players can feed off of one another.
“I really like when people have their personal best moments on stage,” she says. “That is the best thing to see.”
Guest also looks for teams that support one another.
“Teams often have leaders but it’s important for them to know when to step down. You have to know when your moment in the spotlight is and when to give it to others.”
She says the teams often become like families, with players anticipating each other’s thoughts and moves.
“You practice with this team for weeks and weeks from the fall to the winter and by the time competition comes, you have a group mindset. It is really incredible to watch.”