For three Yukon teens who travelled to the Canadian Improv Games in Edmonton this weekend, there was a little more improvisation than they’d planned.
The event’s organizers sent the package, explaining the skits, contents and the judges’ criteria to the wrong address, and it finally arrived just hours before the trio left Whitehorse on Thursday.
That made for a lot of last-minute brainstorming.
“There were a lot of very serious events we had to do – like a life-changing moment for someone,” said Cameron LaPrairie, one of the three Wood Street school students who travelled to Edmonton.
The trio, which included Martin Nishikawa and Brittany Banks, are used to doing comedy skits, not serious ones.
“We did end up doing them but what we really aimed for was the comedic aspect, so it wasn’t very realistic,” said LaPrairie.
“Instead of doing a serious skit about somebody’s mom passing away or something, we’d do something like the skit we did where some chickens took over our castle and we had to fight them of,” he said.
“They stole our sword,” adds Nishikawa.
“Yeah, that’s what happened,” says LaPrairie.
In the end, sword-stealing chickens managed to get the Yukon team to the final round of the competition.
“It wasn’t what they were looking for, but we still got the crowd going, and it was fun to do what we did,” said LaPrairie.
This was the first time the Yukon has ever sent a team to the Canadian Improv Games. The Edmonton event was Alberta’s regionals, and the two best teams are heading to Ottawa for the national rounds over March break.
Still, knowing that the other schools had an edge over them, the trio of 17-year-olds, all in Grade 11, are happy with their top-five finish.
“The other teams that were there knew how the points system worked, so they would do more things and they were very structured and we weren’t,” said Banks.
The preliminary round had three judges, while the final round brought in two more. Only five teams would compete at a time, each using their four allotted minutes to do their best. Each skit had special designated styles that the participants had to incorporate, like a dance form or a soap opera format.
At the jam-packed Varscona Theatre, which seats about 200, the Yukoners had the place in stitches. They also had the audience yelling “Yu-kon do it!,” according to the team’s parental attendant, Clarke LaPrairie.
“One of the organizers said it was one of the first time that they’d ever heard a team’s name being chanted,” said Banks.
Most of the other teams had eight people on them, while the Yukoners were only three.
“It made it easier because we were able to listen to each other, but it also made it harder because we just needed idea after idea,” said Nishikawa.
“You’ve always got to be up there and be thinking with your teammates,” he said.
The trio have been practising improv for months during after-school sessions.
They also got some professional help from local playwright Brian Fidler, as well as George Maratos, a popular staple of the Whitehorse comedy scene.
Maratos helped train them in June, before he left the Yukon. The training ended up being a whole year of on-and-off practice.
“We mainly did theatre games,” said Cameron. “It’s the same stuff over and over again, but it’s about practice makes perfect.”
The biggest lesson in improv school is learning to go ahead with your teammates when they bust out an idea on the spot.
“If you get an offer, always accept it – accept everything that happens on stage,” said Nishikawa.
But despite all the help, they couldn’t avoid the nervousness of performing in a competition for the first time.
“Usually, when we’re just here in the gym it wasn’t nerve wracking,” said Banks.
But all three admitted to being a little stunned when the competition began.
“Someone in the audience told me after the show, ‘You guys did so good but when you guys stepped up on stage, I’ve never seen anyone look so scared in my life,” said Banks. “So we lost marks for that.”
The intensity is the best part, said Cameron.
“It’s just the thrill,”
he said. “Because it’s the only thing where you really don’t know what’s going to happen next no matter the technique you’ve learned.”
As students in Wood Street schools’ MADD program (Music, Art, Drama, Dance,) their curriculum focuses on a range of art forms.
“Improv is such a little part of it,” said Cameron.
The group is hoping to get more students interested in improv and get another team in Edmonton next year.
There’s also something called The Nose Bowl, another Edmonton event, which the trio are aiming to attend.
They want to open others’ eyes to the pleasure of making comedy up as you go.
“You don’t have to prepare, you just go out there and try to make people laugh and make yourself laugh,” said Nishikawa.
LaPrairie and Nishikawa have been friends since kindergarten, and Banks joined their social group in Grade 9.
That comfort level is probably what got them so far, they said.
“It’s all about working with each other, and we know each other really well,” said Cameron.
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