This past March, Niagara comedy troupe Improv Niagara celebrated their first year of engaging audiences through their monthly Improv Fallout event in the Community Room at Mahtay Café.
Improv Niagara was founded in 2017 and had their first show, ‘Scared Scriptless’ at the multi-purpose venue Think Space in Thorold. Since then, the group has hosted fundraisers, held performances and workshops in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Thorold, and were selected to perform at the Big City Improv Festival in Toronto and the River Arts Festival in Dunnville.
Currently, the ensemble consists of Paul Fedj, Genevieve Jones, Mickie Krish, Shawn Noaman, Tino Notarianni, Dina Senior, Erica Sherwood, Lacie Victoria, Brie Watson and Max Whitworth.
For those unaware, the Improv Fallout event consists of three judged ‘rounds’ of improvised acting. At the start of the evening, eight actors take the stage and are split into two teams of four for the first round. They participate in a series of three games and the audience votes out the losing team.
The four then battle their way through two more scenes and are then cut down to two after the second when Judge Brie Watson decides who will face off in the finale, titled ‘More Niagara’. In the end, only a single actor is left victoriously on stage.
For the finale ‘More Niagara’, the audience is asked to tell the group where they’re from in the Niagara Region and some of their favourite locations within the Region.
“The two players begin a scene, and are interrupted several times by the Judge who will say, ‘More Welland,’ or ‘More Clifton Hill,’ and the performers must adapt their scene to include elements from that specific region of Niagara,” explained Watson.
Ultimately, the finale puts the community in the Community Room and Niagara in Improv Niagara.
The event has become a mainstay in Mahtay’s programming, charming audiences with their humour and wit on the last Friday of every month. Outside of their regular performances, the troupe gets together consistently to rehearse their skills.
As Watson stated: “A lot of people ask how you rehearse for improv? Isn’t it made up on the spot?”
But through these rehearsals, the group learns new games to play, focus on each others strengths and weaknesses, and foster a sense of trust, understanding and collaboration between the actors.
“I’ve learned that making other people look good makes you, yourself look good. Improv is a natural high that I get from the stage that money can’t provide – that, and the freedom of being silly at this ripe age of 30ish,” said Paul Fedj.
“It’s like Monopoly, but always landing on the Community Chest. You never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always thrilling. It teaches respect, humility, sharing and listening. We are changing the thought that people are just waiting for their turn to speak,” explained Sherwood. “It creates a humble bond.”
One of the key elements of successfully performing improv, as noted by Sherwood, is the act of listening. This is something that Krish resonated with as one of the biggest life lessons from practicing and performing improv.
“I have realized so many times that I have gone into a conversation only thinking about what I’m going to say (at work and at home) and those conversations always go bad because I haven’t been listening to them. Improv pointed out to me that if we aren’t listening, we are having two different conversations and it doesn’t work.”
After spending the past few years performing on stages throughout Ontario, Improv Niagara has created the truest sense of a ‘group’. They are friends on-and-off the stage, working towards the same goals – to put on a great show, have fun and make audiences laugh as hard as they can.
“We are in this together and we want to succeed. The fact that Niagara has been supportive to us in our endeavors is as good as it gets,” said Senior. “We are only just beginning and our group is one of my favourite groups of people.”
Improv Niagara host Improv Fallout on the last Friday of every month at Mahtay Cafe.