Why Regina is becoming a hub for the 'pure unadulterated fun' of improv comedy
Queen City has ‘pretty passionate’ improv audience, says organizer of Home for the Holidays reunion show
It started on a whim for Vincent Good.
Back in 2016, the Regina software designer decided to take an adult class in improvisation at the Globe Theatre.
Now, as a relatively new member of the Hitchhikers Improv Company, he's part of a burgeoning improvised theatre scene in Regina — and he's loving it.
Regina is not the biggest city in the country, but it's got a pretty strong, pretty passionate improv audience.- Improviser David Carnegie
"You don't get a lot of chances in life to have pure unadulterated fun like that," Good said.
And there are now a lot of people joining Good in that fun.
As of last month, audiences could attend up to six shows put on by three different troupes each month, all making up comedy on the spot without a script. Two of the shows are brand new, including one that features only women, called Eyes Up Here, and LGBTQ+ members, called Prism Improv.
David Carnegie, a former performer with Hitchhikers Improv and with the monthly Combat Improv showcase, credits the city's supportive audiences for building a strong foundation for improvised performance in Regina.
"Regina is not the biggest city in the country, but it's got a pretty strong, pretty passionate improv audience. Not everybody's into improv necessarily, but the people who are, are really into it and performers really appreciate that," he says.
Hitchhikers changed the day for their regular shows from Tuesday to Friday nights this fall, hoping to draw more crowds. So far, it's working. Co-founder Cam Chomyn says the company is slowly trying to convince Regina that live theatre is worth checking out regularly.
"I think we have quite an artsy little city because we can see good numbers from the Fringe Festival, Folk Fest … I do feel like we're growing because we're getting good numbers," Chomyn said.
Carnegie is hoping to draw some of that growing audience out to a special show he's organizing featuring former Regina improvisers, called Home for the Holidays. Seventeen improvisers, most of whom originally hail from Regina and are back from other locales for the holiday season, will be putting on a two-hour show Dec. 21 at the Exchange — which is one of the former venues for Combat Improv.
Regina [is] starting to feel like a big improv hub now that we have multiple shows.- Cameron Bernard, co-founder of Hitchhikers Improv Company
Some notable names for the show include Mike Fly, former executive director of Regina's General Fools (an improv troupe which at one point included Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany) and now an editor with CBC TV's Baroness Von Sketch show; Daniel Maslany, Tatiana's brother and a former Combat Improv performer who has starred in the CBC TV show Four in the Morning; and Tom Hill, who performs improv with Vancouver TheatreSports.
"I remember hearing about how the General Fools used to do shows at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. I remember going to the Globe Sandbox series on the side stage. And the [improv] festivals were held in the round until that moved to the Artesian," Carnegie said.
"As a high school kid, it made me feel cool to be involved this community and everybody else was very accepting. It's a very welcoming environment."
Troupe attracts female comedic talent
That environment also creates a definite niche for funny females, says Eyes Up Here co-founder Vanessa Prevost. She noticed women were not featured much in the local comedy scene outside of high school.
"So I wanted to do something for a while to showcase all the funny women in Regina," she said.
The troupe is now considering holding auditions because of the growing interest.
She also appreciates the platform Hitchhikers gave young female comedians to perform after high school.
"We can be more than the tree in the background and show that we are wanted rather than just the funny boys," she said.
Chomyn agrees, saying that improv has been, for quite some time, an art form dominated by white males, which he doesn't think is the case anymore.
"It's good now there are shows specifically for [women and LGBTQ+ people]. I know that in bigger cities, they have shows like that. It's great to see that happen in Regina because we're starting to feel like a big improv hub now that we have multiple shows."
Prism Improv, a new player on Regina's improv scene, is geared toward the LGBTQ+ community. Co-founders Lilly Thorsen and Jess Tresek say they saw a need for a group like theirs, so they started it up and made their debut last month.
"The LGBTQ+ community is something Lilly and myself hold close to our hearts, so we decided to make our own group and donate all proceeds to charities that support LGBTQ+ issues," said Tresek.
"Going up on stage, I did enjoy the crowd and it was tremendous fun. [Sketch comedy] stole my heart. I almost wanted to do sketches more than improv because I like the idea of being able to take something and refine it," he said.
So now he's doing a bit of both with Hitchhikers.
"It's just finding that inner child in yourself, letting it have fun again and forgetting all the BS you learned as an adult — [to] censor things and not have fun and be conservative — and just enjoy life like it can be enjoyed."