This will be the 10th year at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival for the folks at DnD Improv, who break out their outsized 20-sided dice to do their improvisational riff based on the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons at the Gas Station Arts Centre.
The group’s primary prop is a pretty good metaphor for improv in general. When the participants are making it up as they go along, entertainment value can be a roll of the dice.
This year, the overall number of improv groups is down from last year, when some 17 different companies competed in the off-the-cuff sweepstakes.
This year, only nine groups enter the fringe fray in the improv category, and two of them are newcomers: Lauren and Amanda Do It (Planetarium Auditorium, Venue 10; next showing Saturday at 9:15 p.m.) is a saucy talk show-formatted comedy from Ottawa’s Toasted Theatre Company, promising a different theme and a different fringe artist guest every night. Over at Wee Johnny’s Irish Pub (Venue 15; next showing tonight at 10:30 p.m.), sketch comedians Hunks will be doing pretty much the same thing in Live Podcast Taping.
The seven remaining improv groups come to the fringe with estalished reputations and, to some extent, built-in audiences. Here’s the rundown of purely extemporaneous comedy in 2017.
The Neighbourhood Watch
(MTC Up the Alley, Venue 2; next showing Saturday at 1:45 p.m.) are newcomers compared to some of the more established local troupes, yet the six performers — Kenton J. Dyck, Yuri Hladio, Erin Meagan Schwartz, Michael Barkman, Matt Woelk and Bev Katherine — brought off the highest-rated improv show of 2016, with Free Press reviewer Aidan Geary enthusing: "In 45 minutes, the six Winnipeg performers sucked the audience into a vividly crafted small town, and managed to make them laugh, groan and genuinely care about the townsfolks’ bizarre problems."
Geary’s five-star review may have had something to do with the tight 45-minute running time of the show, since all the other companies do a full hour. In improv, tight is good.
(Pantages Mainstage, Venue 4; next showing today at 3:30 p.m.) a.k.a. duo Lee White and Stephen Sim, along with musical enabler DJ Hunnicutt, are celebrating their 20th fringe this year, and that experience shows. In 2016, Free Press reviewer Jen Zoratti described it thus:
"It’s their finely honed chemistry that makes them such a draw; the way they play off each other is practically telepathic."
(Gas Station Arts Centre, Venue 18, next showing is tonight at 8:45 p.m.) can do what other improvisers do, only they do it to music.
What’s amazing is that the spur-of-the-moment show tunes invented by Toby Hughes, Andrea del Campo, Jane Testar, RobYn Slade, Chadd Henderson and keyboardist Paul DeGurse could hold up against many of the songs you hear in many a contemporary musical. "This is as close to a sure thing as improv gets," wrote Jill Wilson of OJ’s 2016 show.
(Gas Station Arts Centre, Venue 18) don’t get stale with their fantasy-role-playing-game shtick, largely because of their penchant for hosting an array of guest improvisers to their already well-populated show. Last year, Wilson offered a good news/bad news critique: "It’s the fringe’s most lavish improv — featuring projections, costumes and props — but somehow that takes away from the "we’re making it up, folks!" atmosphere.
The Horrible Friends
offer up the prospect of complimentary booze in their alcohol-enhanced Free Beer Episode IV: A Brew Hope (Duke of Kent Legion, Venue 23, next showing tonight at 9 p.m.). Local boys Luke Falconer and Shawn Kowalke exploit the venue for raucous fun, and in last year’s show, Free Press reviewer Brad Oswald noted "Improv is forever a hit-and-miss proposition, but this duo hits much more often than it misses."
share the same venue as Horrible Friends (Duke of Kent Legion, Venue 23, next showing is tonight at 10:45 p.m.) with their 2017 show Funk Beyond the Call of Booty. Trio Alan MacKenzie, Ed Cuddy and George McRobb got a middling review last year from Brad Oswald, who observed: "The jokes that hit were solid, but pacing was a problem as many setups of familiar improv games took longer than needed and prevented the show from sustaining its comedic momentum."
But, hey it’s been a year, and according to my optometrist, vision can get sharper over time.
ask the question "How Low German can you go?" with their new show Mennonite’s Guide to Savage Street Fighting 4: Cards Against the Rascals (at Cinematheque, Venue 7, next showing tonight at 10:45 p.m.).
One of the few improv troupes to guarantee a clean show, this may be the most family-friendly of all the improv groups out there, although that’s not necessarily a good thing when other groups have the decided advantage of letting their imaginations go where they will. Last year, Free Press reviewer Ben Wiebe gave the group two stars for their efforts.