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This article was published 24/9/2015 (613 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the 16-year existence of the Winnipeg Improv Festival, the field of improvised comedy has been akin to an explosion seen in super-slow motion.
In the mid-'90s, local improv performers "could be doing shows for six people, and people didn't know what improv was," says festival director and founder Stephen Sim, best known as half of the legendary Winnipeg improv unit Crumbs, alongside Lee White.
The TV Show Whose Line Is It Anyway? boosted the comedy form into the wider public consciousness, and Sim and White found themselves not only teaching improv but touring the world with their show. After playing festivals around the world, Sim felt Winnipeg could sustain its own fest.
Thus began the If... festival, with Sim working to expand the parameters of the form beyond the bare-bones format of performers on a stage reacting to suggestions from the audience. In past fests, collaborations have encompassed slam poetry and filmmaking, and in the 16th edition, it incorporates elements of hip-hop, visual art and game shows.
"We've always been looking for collaborations with other disciplines," Sim says.
"A lot of festivals are just a showcase festival, where you bring in a group, they do a self-contained show, and the next group does the next show."
"I usually try to showcase at least one group. We're doing that a little bit with North Coast from New York City," Sim says. "But the rest is collaborative experimentation: We've got a crazy idea. Let's try it.
"And this festival is an environment where we get to do that."
On the menu:
THE FESTIVAL SAMPLER PLATTER
KING'S HEAD PUB, TUESDAY, SEPT. 29, AT 9 P.M.
This free show serves as an introduction between many of the festival players and their prospective audiences, hosted by Crumbs with music by DJ Hunnicutt. This is the only festival event that doesn't take place at the Gas Station Arts Centre.
THE DND IMPROV SHOW: UNTOLD STORIES
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 30, AT 8 P.M.
The annual fringe festival mainstay gets an autumn revival, also serving as a fundraiser for the Gas Station Arts Centre.
THURSDAY, OCT. 1, AT 8 P.M.
Improv comedy bounces off a musical soundtrack by local DJ Mama Cutsworth, with another fringe favourite, the Big Stupid Improv Show, slotted in the second half of the evening.
THE KNOWLEDGE & PUNISHMENT IMPROV SHOW
FRIDAY, OCT. 2, AT 8 P.M.
Crumbs' Lee White plays game-show host, testing ensemble players for their know-how and promising "cruel and unusual" punishment for the losers.
THE BIZARRO IMPROV/COMEDY HYBRID SHOW
FRIDAY OCT. 2, AT 10:30 P.M.
Standup comics have their sets turned into improv scenes. This show features the New York City improv group North Coast, including the amazing 2015 Female World Champion Beatboxer Kaila Mullady.
SCRIPT NO SCRIPT SHOW
SATURDAY, OCT. 3, AT 8 P.M.
Improv meets visual art in this show featuring improvisers working against a live-feed backdrop supplied by artist Kal Barteski.
"It's really fun to have that extra element," Sim says. "Lee and I have done a show like this on tour, but we haven't done it with this artist."
CRUMBS WITH KEVIN MCDONALD
SATURDAY, OCT. 3, AT 10:30 P.M.
Crumbs' Stephen Sim and Lee White are joined by Kevin McDonald of the Kids in the Hall in a second collaboration inspired by the success of last year's partnership. The North Coast troupe returns with Mullady for this final show.