Humour and Remembrance

I just wanted to write a little follow-up, albeit a late one, about the First World War themed improv show I held with co-producer Aaron Peever on Vimy Ridge Day, this past April 9th.

One of my huge concerns about the show was that people, especially the performers, would take it seriously. And, I know the reason I was concerned. I was met with a certain defensive suspicion whenever I mentioned the idea to people. I could tell the instinctive reaction was something along the lines of  a “how dare you make fun of people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom?”-mentality, which I think is certainly reflective of the way we’re expected to feel about most military action nowadays. Either you’re you support the troupes, or you hate Canada, right? And making jokes about the War sure doesn’t sound like supporting the troupes!

Here’s the thing. I hand-picked the improvisers to play in this show based on one fact: their knowledge of First World War history. Some of the cast weren’t even improvisers, but were excited by the opportunity to give their knowledge of history a new platform. In fact, most of the improvisers I asked leapt at the opportunity to play in this world, to combine their knowledge with their amazing abilities to create realistic relationships, characters and scenes specifically within the realm of that era. I mean, some of them were pretty stoked to history-nerd out! (Myself included.)

The platform was wonderful. I chose this cast because I knew they would not mock the War. They would create characters and scenes within the very real context of the War based entirely on their historical knowledge of the events in question and their respect and appreciation of its history. The characters they chose were real. The scenarios, likely, given the context. The result; pure unbridled silly awesomeness. NOT mockery.

We’re all so sensitive to political correctness now, I felt like I was walking on eggshells producing a show based on events that took place nearly ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago!  The more I thought about it, the more I came to wonder why people didn’t really get it. And here’s what I came up with.

1) People, in general, aren’t familiar with longform improvisation, or any improvisation for that matter that doesn’t follow the Whose Line Is it Anyway? model they’ve seen over the years on TV. This, to me, is tragic. Longform improv at its core is about playing real, honest characters and having them tell a story and transport you to a place and a time that, when done correctly, will have you in disbelief that it’s all made up on the spot, but also, in stitches. The scenes last much longer than what you’ve come to expect out of Whose Line, which allows for more time to create very realistic world right there on stage.

2) People have short memories. We’re certainly not the first people to make comedy about the First World War (or any war for that matter; look how many movies came out of Vietnam, and what about M*A*S*H, set in Korea? That show was on the air for over 10 years!)

But, specifically regarding  WW1, how about the greats? Here’s some Monty Python for your faces:

Hell, during the Great War itself, Canada had its own group of comedians who would entertain the troops with their vaudeville act, which went onto Broadway after the end of the War!

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The horrors these soldiers faced during the war are not something we want to mock. Quite the opposite. Why not use humour as a way to help people REMEMBER the war, rather than making people paranoid about even talking about it, lest they express some criticism that might make them seem unpatriotic?

If you still don’t catch my drift, come to Toronto on June 6th, and watch this amazing group of improvisers storm the beaches and pay homage, in our own special way, to the Canadians in WW2.

For King and Country – Vimy Ridge Day at SoCap

Tonight, I’m producing an improv show which brings together my love of improvisation as well as my passion for World War One history. For those of you who did not know me before moving to France, I was once (or twice, or four times) a Tour Guide at the Vimy National Canadian War Memorial, in France.

The whole experience had an extremely profound impact on my life and today, on the 98th Anniversary of the Four Canadian Divisions storming the ridge, all together in formation for the first time in our history, I and several of my hilarious colleagues, will be presenting:

WWIMprov

All funds raised will be going to the Vimy Foundation and Wounded Warriors Canada.

It’s a worthy cause, so…

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State of Play

As you may have gathered from the last late-night post reflecting my predictions of the inevitable discovery of my colleague’s talent by Hollywood or what have you, and the subsequent benefits of that association/friendship I shall reap, her play went rather well.  As did all performances Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Thus, our second year “Ten Minute Play Festival” and most of ours’ first attempt at play-writing comes to successful completion.

There were some neat ones, some serious ones, some non-verbal ones and it was always fun throughout to ask “which one of my colleagues wrote this one?” and to be pleasantly surprised at the answer.

Anyone who knows of my history as a tour guide at Vimy Ridge would not be surprised to discover I was the playwright of “the one about the WW1 brothel.”  It turned out well!  It was serious against a backdrop of ridiculousness; drunken and horny soldiers, Brandon in drag as the “Madame” of the establishment, Ron successfully pulling off a full “under the slip” boob grope to an unsurprised and perfectly-deadpan French whore, Ashley.  And my two leads, Kyle & Paige, keeping the romance and escape plan serious and honest while all this other nonsense is going around them.

It’s so rewarding to see the words you’d written and rewritten and rewritten performed on stage with the help of a seasoned director who can make your vision appear, and extracting emotional responses you hadn’t even considered in the writing process. There’s also some interesting feeling about seeing the actors work hard at memorizing their lines and becoming these characters; putting in the effort so that they too, can make your vision a reality.

I hope I was able to do that for the two roles for which I was cast – one as a middle-aged strict Russian dance teacher, propositioned by two jocks who just really need to pass their ballet exam to make the football team, at whatever cost. 😉 – and Gracie, the teen dog who’s getting too old to play pretend with her dog-brother and her human mother who wants nothing more but to create the most beautiful Dog Wedding in history.

Whether it was that or Romeo learning to appreciate his wing-man, or an English teacher getting his funk back. Getting past  St. Peter into Heaven or curing his son from his own online game persona.  Buttoning down and finally applying for that first job at No Frills, or  watching the Tooth Fairy struggle to get the job done…it sure was nifty to see the talent and creativity of my colleagues’ brainboxes come to life.

Bravo, all!