Arts·CIG

Whose line is it anyway? These high school students — participants in Canada's national Improv Games

These theatre kids made it from across the country to perform at the National Arts Centre.

These theatre kids made it from across the country to perform at the National Arts Centre

Meet some of the improvisers from the national Canadian Improv Games. Left to right: Josh Nash-Awanyo; Giovanna Musial; Emily Clark. (Chanel Klein/CBC)

The Canadian Improv Games (CIG) are often described as the Olympics of Improv. The national competition draws hundreds of high school students from across the country to participate in improv games that challenge the participants to think on their feet in front of a panel of judges at the National Arts Centre.

Making it to the nationals in Ottawa is a big deal for these theatre students. They've had to train hard and compete against teams in their regional divisions to make it to the national stage. And now they're ready to say, "Yes and," to anything that gets thrown at them during the improv games.

But how has improv impacted their lives offstage? Meet three of the improvisers from the 42nd Canadian Improv Games: Josh Nash-Awanyo from Regina, Giovanna Musial from Halifax and Emily Clark from Kingston.

Josh Nash-Awanyo

Josh's improv team, the Plaid Lads, performed on the first night of the Canadian Improv Games. (Chanel Klein/CBC)

Josh is from Regina, where he attends Luther College High School. His improv team is known as the Plaid Lads, or P.L.A.H.D., which stands for Plaid Lads Against Homophobic Do-Bads. It's been nine years since the Plaid Lads have made it to the nationals — 2019 marks the team's second time competing in the CIG national tournament in Ottawa.

Life isn't scripted.- Josh Nash-Awanyo

Why does Josh do improv? "It helps develop my socialization skills, people skills and general improvisational skills. Because life isn't scripted. So it's really useful," says Josh.

From Regina to Ottawa, Josh is a long way from home. What is he missing the most right now?

"I miss my own bed at home," says Josh. And his personal motto? "Sometimes life just slaps you hard. Like, really hard. You gotta turn the other cheek."

Emily Clark

This is Emily’s first year doing improv with her team Regi-Gold. (Chanel Klein/CBC)

Emily hails from Kingston, Ont. where she attends Regiopolis Notre Dame Catholic High School. Her improv team is known as Regi-Gold.

Her team had tight competition in the Kingston regional division. "We couldn't believe we actually won," says Emily.

She's a natural performer — it's only her first year doing improv and she's already made it to the CIG nationals with Regi-Gold. "I never thought I was going to be here! It's a big shock and I'm super excited," she says.

[Improv] helped me with problem-solving in real life.- Emily Clark

"Improv has helped me become a better actor, I'm into musical theatre. It's also helped me with problem-solving in real life. If there's an issue...I've learned how to break it down like I do in an improv scene."

How would she describe the Canadian Improv Games to a newbie? "It's completely the opposite of how you think a competition would be," she says. When she arrived at her very first improv competition in Kingston, Emily was surprised at how welcoming the other players were. Being a figure skater in the past, Emily was accustomed to how competition can be between rival performers. But the CIG wasn't like that experience at all.

"Here, it's like — you just met these people, but it feels like you've known them for all your life," she says. "You relate with them; you can be weird with them; you don't feel judged. It's like an open, free environment."

Being in Ottawa away from her home in Kingston, what is she missing the most right now? "I'm really missing my friends back home and my family."

Giovanna Musial

Giovanna Musial successfully competed with her team in the Nova Scotia regional division to make it to the national CIG. (Chanel Klein/CBC)

Giovanna Musial goes to Halifax West High School, where she joined the Halifax West Moose Crossing improv team. It's her first time at nationals and the first time for many of her teammates to make it to the big national tournament in Ottawa. "It's a really fun experience for all of us," she says.

Why does Giovanna do improv? "I get so much love and support...You can really just go up to anyone and say, 'Hi!' and give them a hug. It really is such an open and welcoming community and I'm so thankful for that."

During the improv games, each team is given 15 seconds to come up with a four-minute scene using suggestions provided by the audience. While Giovanna huddled with her team on stage, she suggested they improv a scene where she makes a difficult speech about coming out as a lesbian at her high school.

"I went through a very difficult time in my life leading up to high school," Giovanna explains. "I entered grade 10 very nervous and completely terrified of what was coming ahead." That was when she joined the high school improv team.

"I can come to these people, laugh with them, cry with them and vent with them and they will always be there for me," says Giovanna. "And that is something that I haven't really experienced before."

Make do with what you have and make it work.- Giovanni Musial

"Coming to this place where I don't have to hold anything back at all and can be my most authentic self...is something that I really can't see myself living without now," she says.

Giovanna is far away from home while she stays in Ottawa for nationals. What does she miss the most right now? "I'm missing my mom and my sister."

Her personal motto is a saying her mom tells her: "If you don't have a dog, hunt with a cat. [It means] make do with what you have and make it work."

Stream the Canadian Improv Games finale Thursday night at 7:30pm ET on Algonquin TV.

About the Author

Chanel Klein is an Associate Producer with CBC Comedy and CBC Television's Scripted Digital department in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @ChanelCBC.