Recap of Improv Summit 2013

Feb 10, 2013 02:36 pm by b.j.swank in Without Annette

The Improv Summit, now in it’s 11th year, was held at TSC last night before a packed house. Josh hosted for the first time this year, using the now well-worn Beat It format.

In the first semi-final, McGill (11th participation, natch) squared off against teams from Queens (5th), Carleton (9th) and Western (2nd). Overall, it was a pretty even round. McGill’s best scene was a wedding night scene where the fiancée was engaging in premarital activities behind (literally) the fiancé’s back. Queens put together a good string of scenes, capped off by a successful scene of Smote Loi Let where one player plays as many characters as possible. Carleton’s highlight was a Puppets scene with a vigorous audience member. Western performed my favourite scene of the round: a film noir with some great narration by Matt. Queens won the round with 6 points, whereas Western collected 4 points, Carleton 2, and McGill none.

In the second semi-final, Toronto (5th participation) swept the round with 4 great scenes (8 points): two boxers who take their coaches dating analogies literally and fall in love; the invention of basketball, not by Dr. James Naismith, but by cavemen; happy miners; and a psycho keeping her inner monologue under wraps just long enough to score an apartment. Brock got 4 points on the backs of some character work by Liv and storytelling by Erik. They had a creepy 1st date scene I quite liked. Ottawa, who had recently won the U of Toronto Summit at Beat It, had some good moments with a Day in the Life scene they inexplicably lost, but were shut out of the scoring.

The audience was fantastic this year–enthusiastic and non-partisan. Save for the aforementioned Ottawa scene and a couple of close votes in the final round, I thought the audience had very good taste (in that it matched my own) and favoured substance over cheap d&f jokes.

Judges, Sandi, Mariana & Bryan were dishing out lots of awards, including one to Brock for “Most disgusting thing Bryan has every seen” for a horrific tongue-wagging open-mouthed kiss, an award to the audience for “Collective gasp at the mention of ‘High Fat Mayonnaise’”, and one to Anton on lights & sound for “Best Indian music at the Egyptian pyramids”.

The final round featured Queens, Toronto, and judge wildcard pick Western. Whereas it looked like Toronto was going to run away with the prize, the round ended with 4 points all around. Western did a great silent time machine scene where a couple of guys visited a dancing lady in different eras. Queens did a nice Hansel & Gretel retelling. Toronto had a scene set in the future where “there are no more humans, just people who act like robots”, a cinematographic masterpiece in the story of a horse who betrays his jockey and jumps the fence to run free, and a cop/robber shootout scene where the cops can’t decide who should draw fire since they both have considerable RRSP investments. The tie-breaker came in the form of a 1-minute scene in which all 3 teams performed their worst scene to date. In the end, Toronto was crowned champion by applause-o-meter. The judges ranked Western 2nd, and Queens a close 3rd.

The MVP certificate was awarded to Charles from Toronto (though Sam, Robby and Talal also made huge contributions to the win). The 2nd star went to Josh from Queens, who was making his 5th and final trip with the team. Michelle from Western picked up her 2nd consecutive 3rd star.

Recap of Improv Summit 2012

Mar 17, 2012 04:55 pm by b.j.swank in Without Annette

The 10th annual McGill Improv Summit saw 8 teams compete for the coveted Shatner Trophy (a homemade pink bowl this year.) I’m not even sure the current generation of McGill Improv realizes that the trophy has a name, but I managed to remind everyone several times. Tradition!

TSC played host to the Summit for a 2nd year and once again the place was packed from wall to shining wall. The teams competing were: McGill (10th participation), UQAM (10th), Carleton (8th), U of Ottawa (5th), Queens (4th), U of Toronto (4th), Brock (3rd), and Western (1st).

McGill won the first semi-final with 6 points, besting Toronto and Carleton with 4 points each and Ottawa with 2. It was an incredibly close round. Carleton’s 2-person team was consistently strong, their highlights being a fun Tarantino genre scene and another about a kid taking D&D too seriously. Toronto brought a long-form sensibility into the mix. They did an epic rendering of the movie 300 in 2 minutes flat. McGill started off a bit slow, but some expressive character work by Fred scored them a few late points to put them on top. Ottawa had a nice sound effects scene.

Brock won the second semi-final with 8 points, topping Queens with 6, UQAM with 2, and Western with 0. Brock, led by Liv and Victoria, won all 4 of their challenges. I enjoyed the scene about 2 rivals vying to be Sherlock Holmes’ new sidekick, and a nighttime haunting monster story. UQAM, 3-time defending champions, put on a good show as usual. I particularly liked the “Ghost” scene where guys at a party are not sure whether the girl in the corner is real or not. They also had a fun scene where Mario and Luigi had to collect coins for rent. I liked Queens’ dream-sequence scene, and Western had a good puppets scene early in the round.

The judges, Marc and Josh, put Toronto through to the final, though they were considering no fewer than 3 teams.

In the final, McGill prevailed narrowly with 6 points, Toronto took second place with 4 points, and Brock rounded out the top three with 2 points. Sam from U of T took MVP honours, Liv from Brock received the 2nd star, and Michelle brightened Western’s evening by earning the 3rd star. I also thought that Will from McGill played an excellent straight man all night and was instrumental in securing McGill’s first win since 2005.

Watch McGill’s Body Language silent scene and From Good to Bad game from the final.

Recap of Improv Summit 2011

Feb 27, 2011 01:29 am by b.j.swank in Improv, Montreal, Reviews

The 9th edition of McGill’s Improv Summit was held at Theatre Ste-Catherine this year, a welcome change to McGill’s council room. This, along with the addition of Montreal’s favourite improv techie, Dayv (whose name was chanted by the appreciative crowd), made for the most professional show in the event’s history.

7 universities from Ontario and Quebec were hoping to improvise their way into the hearts of the sold-out theatre. The first semi-final was won by UQAM (6 points) over Brock (4), U of Ottawa (2) and U of Toronto (0). Brock University brought a posse of 15 noisy and fairly partisan fans all the way from Southern Ontario. Brock’s team delighted their frenzied faithful with a stage kiss–something we haven’t seen in a few years. Ottawa brought a guitar to the party. U of Toronto deserved a better fate, but one of their players did take home the 3rd star on the night.

Carleton (5 points), fielding a much improved team, narrowly beat host McGill (4) and Queens (4) in the second semi-final Their rendition of an anatomical spelling bee was as funny as it was, well, juvenile. Their “draft dodger” scene about a disconsolate Leafs draft pick was well-received by the Montreal audience.

The judges, Nick and Josh, put Queens through to the final with their wild card selection.

The final was an enjoyable affair with UQAM, predictably, winning its 3rd Summit in a row, and 5th overall. As far as I can remember, this was the first year the winning team did not lose a single challenge. They went 7-0 on the night. Their 8 points in the final topped Carleton and Queens who each grabbed 2 points against each other. Carleton secured 2nd place on account of having performed one fewer scenes (and having won their semi-final). Louis-Philippe won his second consecutive MVP award. Josh from Queens took 2nd star.

UQAM, as in past years, focused on simple story arcs, physicality and character. Their silent scene “Unhealthy Comparisons” was a riot, as were their scenes about a missing land mine (”Abandoned Mine”) and Caesar being stabbed by forks in a delicious birthday cake (”What really happened at Caesar’s Assassination).

My name also got chanted. Just sayin’.

The guys from Carleton have a recap here.

MPROV: The 5th Montreal Improv Festival

Oct 04, 2010 04:38 pm by marc in Without Annette

MPROV – The Montreal Improv Festival

Sep 17, 2010 08:11 am by marc in Without Annette

Montreal’s great festival tradition continues with MPROV: the 5th Annual Montreal Improv Festival, October 6th-9th. Improvisers from New York City, Denver, Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg will be converging at Mainline Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent. Shows and workshops!

Montreal Fringe 2010

Jun 13, 2010 09:14 am by vinnyfrancois in Without Annette

If you’re looking for Fringe views, news, and reviews, check us out at

Getting Yourself Into Trouble

Feb 27, 2010 08:52 pm by b.j.swank in Without Annette

Instant Trouble
“Instant Trouble” is any problem or conflict that occurs abruptly at the beginning of a scene. Because the problem happens so early in the scene, the players typically spend the rest of the scene trying to fix the problem.

E.g. Sarah is in the shower, relaxing, when suddenly the water turns cold. She jumps out of the shower and sets about finding the cause of the problem. She tries turning another faucet.. same problem. She calls in her husband who tries using a wrench on various pipes to no avail. They call a plumber but it’s the weekend. Finally, she boils some water, puts it in a bucket, and has her husband pour it over her slowly as she takes a “shower”.

In this example, the players have managed to tell a nice little story with a quirky ending; but ultimately, the story was about fixing the shower, not about the people involved. Sarah is completed unchanged in her relationship to herself and everyone around her. There isn’t any obvious follow-up scene to this one, because the problem is fixed.

Getting Yourself Into Trouble
While the natural urge in improv is to fix a problem, it’s much more interesting to get the person deeper and deeper into trouble by raising the stakes. This means taking active choices to amp up the tension.

E.g. Sarah is in the shower, relaxing, when suddenly the fire alarm goes off. She rushes outside, then realizes she’s naked. She tries to go back inside but discovers she’s locked out. She looks under the welcome mat for her key, but doesn’t find it. She looks up to discover that the next door neighbour’s kid is smirking, dangling the key in front of her. Sarah chases after the kid, and finally tackles him. With the key finally in hand, she looks up to see 2 cops standing over her, still naked and straddling a boy.

In this example, while there is still instant trouble, the players didn’t try to fix the problem by looking to put out the fire or find the source of the alarm. They raised the stakes and made the scene about Sarah’s humiliation. There are many possibilities for a follow-up scene: Sarah at the police station, Sarah trying to explain herself to the neighbours, a town council meeting where Sarah is discussed, etc.

This example came straight from a game of “Yes, Let’s” by my level 1 class. Pretty amazing given that I had just explained the concept of getting into trouble.

Advancing without advancing
It’s hard to get yourself into trouble. Often, improvisors fall into patterns where the trouble is just a series of obstacles keeping them from what they want. In the first example, Sarah is thwarted at every turn, but the trouble isn’t moving the story forward. If the husband is of no help, and the plumber isn’t at work, and the wrench is useless, what is happening? Nothing is happening. If the wrench fixes the problem, but then the shower no longer drains properly, what is happening? Nothing–we just put up another obstacle and are still trying to fix the shower problem.

Certified organic trouble
The most satisfying trouble is trouble that arises organically from the platform of your scene. If we know the character and what they care about, it will be much easier to get them into trouble with stakes that matter.

Trouble can come in many shapes, but physical injury is not usually helpful, because physical injuries usually require you to fix them. Here is another example from class where the students dealt with injury well:

E.g. A chef is preparing chicken in the kitchen of his restaurant. He has some wine. He nicks himself with his knife. He can’t find anything to stop the bleeding, and starts to feel faint. As he’s about to pass out, he grabs the chicken and uses it to apply pressure to the wound. (In class, this unfortunately fixed the problem, but what if…) Someone walks in to find the chef treating his wound with food… or it’s his last piece of chicken and he serves it to someone and they notice.

Let the trouble find you
Don’t look for trouble early in the scene. Establish your whos, whats and wheres and let the trouble find you.

When does the trouble end?
Once the stakes are high, it’s time for something BIG to happen. Don’t wimp out with an easy fix–the outcome of that something BIG should ideally alter your relationships and mean that you can no longer go back to the way things were before.

Finding the game
Getting into trouble is just one kind of game, that is, a pattern in the scene that gets repeated and amplified. By no means is getting into trouble the only way to approach a scene, but when trouble finds you, resist the temptation to fix it.

Recap of Improv Summit 2010

Feb 27, 2010 07:57 pm by b.j.swank in Improv, Montreal, Reviews

A bit late, but here’s my yearly recap of McGill’s Improv Summit 2010, the improv competition that pits Eastern Canadian universities (both French & English) against each other.

7 teams competed this year: Queens, Carleton and Humber in the first semi-final; and McGill, Ottawa, Brock and UQAM in the second. The format used was “Beat It!”, a format I developed that allows multiple teams to face off against each other. Although it worked rather well, the rules are probably way too complicated. In short, a challenge is issued to a specific team. Once they’ve performed, any other team can try to Beat It. Contested scenes are worth 2 points, while uncontested scenes are worth 1. Strategically, it can make sense to let a scene go unchallenged if it was excellent.

Queens won the harder semi-final by a score of 6 to 4 to 4. McGill won its semi-final 6 to 5 to 5 to 2 (Brock). The judges put UQAM through to the final by giving them the richly deserved wildcard entry.

The final was won easily by UQAM 5 to 2 to 2. The tie for second-place was decided by a dice roll, with McGill edging out Queens as runner-up. The MVP (first star) went to a player from UQAM.

I thought UQAM was head-and-shoulders above the other teams. They used their huddle time well and performed tight simple stories. The other teams had trouble consistently putting together coherent stories with any stakes, and yet, there were definitely some nice moments.

Here is a selection of my favourite scenes in the order they happened:
Carleton: “I’m Here on Official Business”. A restauranteur tries to hide a dead body (played by an audience member) from health inspectors. This was one of only two scenes to go unchallenged.
Queens: “Billy Didn’t Speak Like the Other Kids”. The new kid in class is straight from Elizabethan England.
Humber: “It’s in the Subway”. A sound-effects-only scene about a guy working at Subway Sandwiches who uses a light-saber to slice meat.
UQAM: “Love at First Sight”. A woman goes to New Zealand to meet Frodo Baggins, but ends up meeting the eye of Sauron instead.
UQAM: “I’ll Tell You Everything I Know”. Police officers in a coffee shop don’t know the crime they’re trying to solve is happening in an adjacent room. The victim acts like a diva when made to record a ransom videotape.
UQAM: “This Is What I’m Known For”. The Protector will protect the Chosen One at all costs. Too bad he’s only playing a video game and the chosen one is the baby he’s neglecting in the real world.
McGill: “There is Nothing Strange about Miss Chanteclerc” Two players talk to their dead mother, thus rising to the challenge of a 2.5-player scene. Pretty dark and gutsy performance on this one.
UQAM: “Denial” (set to music). A cheating wife hides her 2 lovers as her husband comes home. This was the second scene to go unchallenged.
Queens: “The Teacher and The Pupil” A latin class with a lot of made-up latin words.

Impro hebdo à Montréal / Weekly French Improv in Montreal

Jan 25, 2010 11:33 pm by b.j.swank in Improv, Montreal

Les lundis / Mondays:

  • LNI, 7pm @ Club Soda, 1225 St Laurent, Metro St-Laurent
  • CIA, 9pm @ Petit Campus, 57 Prince-Arthur E., Metro Sherbrooke
  • Lalig, 8pm @ Pub St-Ciboire, 1693 rue Ontario Est, Metro Papineau
  • LUDIC (U de M), 8pm @ Café-Bar La Brunante, 3200 Jean-Brillant, Metro Cote-des-Neiges
  • Rocambolesque (division P), 8pm @ Saint-Sulpice, 1680, St-Denis, Metro Berri

Les mardis / Tuesdays:

Les mercredis / Wednesdays:

Les vendredis / Fridays:

  • La LicUQAM, 8pm @ bar le Grimoire du pavillon Aquin, 400, rue Sainte-Catherine Est, Metro Berri

Les dimanches / Sundays:

  • LIM, 8pm @ Lion D’Or, 1676, rue Ontario Est, Papineau
  • La P’tite ligue, 7:30pm @ Parc des Princes, 5293 ave. du Parc, Metro Laurier/Outremont
  • Les Cravates, 8pm @ Le Petit Medley, 6206, rue St-Hubert, Metro Beaubien
  • Gailaxie,7:30pm @ Cabaret à Mado, 1115, rue Sainte-Catherine est, Metro Beaudry

Je vous ai oublié? Laissez-moi votre plogue dans les commentaires.

Bilingual Improv Team (McGill)

Jan 24, 2010 06:35 pm by b.j.swank in Improv, Linkage, Montreal

Montreal’s newest improv team performs this Thursday (via Facebook event):

As the second event of the FrancoFête 2010, the CAF is proud to present to second game of McGill Bilingual Improv Team at 7 p.m. at Gert’s. This time, they will face the Montreal Rocambolesque, an improv league which takes place at the St-Sulpice bar and is based on a mix of classical and experimental improv. You can’t miss this clash of the titans!

and via the CAF Facebook page

Le match d’improvisation de la BIT (Bilingual Improv Team) de McGill face à la LIC (Lique d’Improvisation Centrale) de l’UQÀM fut un franc succès le 22 octobre dernier [...] qui s’est conclu par une victoire de nos favoris par le compte de 6 à 4!


Jan 17, 2010 12:53 am by b.j.swank in Without Annette

I just recycled all those all non-sequitur title cards from 2008’s Argument With a Dolphin. I couldn’t think of a better place to store this list, so for posterity’s sake:

The good:
The Moment I Fell out of Love
Argument with a Dolphin
Yours Truly
The Slap

The so-so:
Phone Call from a Former Lover
Answering Machine

The eh:
Pearly Gates
Slumber Party
The Birds

The never played:
Spelling Bee
Diamond Dance
Hat Squad

And of course, on with the show!

The Improv-Hockey Analogy

Jan 09, 2010 02:03 am by b.j.swank in Improv

Improv is like Hockey. In the way that it’s like hockey, it’s also like basketball and soccer, so you can think of it in those terms too.

Funniness is offense

Offense is the most accessible part of organised sport; everyone loves a goal, a home-run, a slam-dunk. Offense in improv is funniness–it makes the audience cheer and swoon, and it attracts newcomers with its glamour.

From Rocket Richard to Alex Ovechkin, the truly offensively gifted are naturally talented. While experience and training will hone the naturally gifted person’s skills, no amount of study and practice will turn journeyman players into superstars.

Story is defense

Connoisseurs value the defensive game, and see the artistry in the goaltender’s dual, the pitcher’s dual, the perfect game. Defense in improv is story–it gives fundamental structure to the game plan.

Defensemen take longer to make it to the major leagues than forwards, because they need to gain a lot of experience to be good at defense. Storytelling requires talent, sure, but it take years of proper coaching and experience for everything to come together.

Defense wins championships.

Transition game

In hockey, offense begins with the transition game from defense. In other words, how the defensemen are able to get the puck up to the forwards is crucial in building a successful attack. Improv is the same–funniness flows from story.

It stands to reason that if your story is falling apart, then you are lost in your own zone without a hope of getting the puck up ice for a laugh.

What position?

Are you a winger–a natural goal-scorer who delivers the buzzer-beating laughs?
Are you a centre–a play-maker, a team leader in assists who sets up all those zingers for the wingers to tap in?
Are you a defensemen–a behind-the-play architect who sets up interesting platforms and moves the story forward?

Your team

Your team needs wingers, centres and defensemen. If you are building a new cast, or looking to add a member to your team, look at where your team needs help.

Coaches love a forward who back-checks to help our the defense, and a defenseman who can join the rush on offense. Nothing obliges you to be a one-dimensional player. In fact, on some nights, you may be called to play out of position in order to help the team.

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