Improv community aims to build on pandemic momentum

With the recent surge of online classes, local improvisers agree their craft is gaining in popularity

Halifax improvisers believe improv will flourish as a result of the pandemic if they continue finding ways to make the performing art inclusive and accessible.

Hello City is one of the only improv troupes in Halifax. Liam Fair, a founding member of the troupe, said he wants improv to continue to grow by reaching a wider range of people in the community. He said he recognizes the majority of Hello City cast members are white.

“I want improv to be inclusive, but a white guy yelling about wanting it to be inclusive is like the worst way to make a space inclusive,” Fair said.

For improv to gain more diverse representation, Fair believes there needs to be a space predominantly for women and people of colour. Hello City’s goal is to find ways to facilitate these spaces through funding and production as well as making classes and shows more accessible.

For the improv community to grow, Fair believes it’s important to create an environment where people can feel supported and confident enough to take the stage as improvisers. While the pandemic continues to restrict in-person performances, Hello City turns to YouTube live streams to put on shows and to encourage people to take improv classes.

“We’re thinking about doing an online scholarship show where the money would go towards a bursary or grant for people to take online classes,” Fair said.

Since a lot of improv schools have shifted online because of COVID-19 restrictions, Fair said people in Halifax have access to a variety of training possibilities. It is because of these unprecedented opportunities that improvisers believe the Halifax improv community can prosper despite the pandemic.

Hello City’s Colin McGuire said when the troupe was formed in 2017, there wasn’t much improv in the city in terms of shows or classes.

“Before the pandemic, I think we were super well on our way to it,” McGuire said. “We got a lot of momentum going in the community and I think we can get it back.”

Hello City troupe (with the exception of Beth Poulsen) perform live improv at Shakespeare by the Sea in Point Pleasant Park on Saturday, September 12, 2020. The audience is socially distanced to abide COVID-19 restrictions, as they celebrate 30 years of the Halifax Fringe Festival.   Contributed/Stoo Metz

Both Fair and McGuire also teach at Neptune Theatre, a professional theatre company in Halifax and one of the only places offering improv classes in the city. Since 2018, the theatre school has expanded their curriculum to cater to a range of commitment and skill levels, from drop-in classes to master classes.

Laura Caswell, the director of education at the theatre school, said there’s been a growing demand for improv classes. She’s noticed drop-in improv classes sell out now during the pandemic whereas in the past, it took an effort to fill the spots.

Caswell said classic performing arts like dance and Shakespeare usually draw in the same crowd. Improv has proven different.

“The interesting thing with the improv classes is there’s always a diverse group of people—and I’m not just talking race,” Caswell said. “It’s interesting that by nature, it draws in diverse groups.”

According to Caswell, Fair played a huge part in getting improv classes started in Halifax. She’s curious to see how programming will grow beyond the Neptune Theatre once the pandemic allows people like Fair to establish their own theatre schools.

“I look forward to when we’re not the only place to take an improv class,” Caswell said.

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