By Tim Stacey
Two weeks before their upcoming performance, KO Improv holds a weekend rehearsal in an empty studio at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. Five gym mats are arranged on the floor to represent the stage they will perform on in a few weeks. The improvisers restlessly propel from one scene to the next, giving each a chance to flourish before upending the setting for something new. It’s improv; there’s no script, no story, and no set, which makes their preparation more akin to exercising a muscle than it is to rehearsing a routine.
“You’re creating it with the audience there,” said KO Improv member Hayley Malouin.
“Improv is predicated on getting suggestions or stories from the audience. They’re just as invested as we are, and they’re just as important a part of it.”
Improvisation is as exciting as it is challenging. With no prepared material, the improvisers work non-stop throughout a performance to create engaging scenes, challenge each other, and of course, entertain the audience.
“The enjoyment derived from improv is in seeing the journey we take on stage,” said member Lewis Whiteley.
“A lot of what you’re doing in improv is wholly collaborative,” continued another member, Jamie Roboz. “You need an audience, you need the people you’re performing with, and that’s what makes it unique; it’s the culmination of all those things.”
St Catharines’ own KO Improv troupe is comprised of Collin Glavac, Jamie Roboz, Lewis Whiteley, Hayley Malouin, David Bernard, Ross Mosher and Jonas McLean, all of whom are alumni of the Brock University Improv Club. The Brock University Improv Club gave them the opportunity to hone and develop their skills together.
“Finding an outlet for improvisers in the area after their graduation is something very important to me, something that I hope will continue for years to come,” explained Whiteley.
KO Improv will soon present their fourth show at the recently opened Showtime Comedy and Entertainment venue in downtown St Catharines. For these veterans of the Brock improv scene, the new setting does present some challenges. The members admit that the Brock Improv club often performed almost exclusively for other improvisers, dramatic arts students, and similarly sympathetic audiences. The crowd drawn at Showtime often includes those unfamiliar with improv comedy, which the troupe finds exciting.
Outside of the most popular examples, like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, improv is a largely marginalized type of performance comedy. Its unpredictable nature often makes it an easy target for criticism and dismissal.
“There’s often not a lot of respect for improv as an art form and performance style unto itself,” said Whiteley. “It’s exciting to be a part of a movement that’s bringing a somewhat maligned art form into the spotlight, if slowly, especially since KO Improv is one of only two ambassadors for improv in the Niagara region.”
As half the Niagara improv scene, the troupe is working hard to cultivate an audience with both cost-friendly shows and, eventually, workshops.
“I’m largely interested in how we can inject theatre or related performances and performing companies into the greater public without it being costly for producers or audiences,” says Glavac. “I want things to be accessible, open, have a high caliber of performance, and be sustainable in its regularity”.
KO Improv presents a still rare chance for local audiences to expand their understanding of improv past the examples set by icons like Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles. Who knows what the Niagara improv community will look like in five years? For now, it’s largely populated by the mostly silly — but nonetheless genuine — members of the KO Improv troupe.
KO Improv’s next show, “Kindly Offensive”, will be presented at Showtime Comedy and Entertainment, 92 St Paul St., on February 4. Tickets are $8, doors open at 7:30 pm, and the show starts at 8pm. Connect with them on Facebook at facebook.com/KOImprov to keep track of their upcoming shows and workshops.