Ferries, planes, automobiles: this improv team from Salt Spring Island goes the distance

The G.I.S.S. improv team makes it to finals in this episode of the Canadian Improv Games Series.
The stakes are high on the final night of the 2019 Canadian Improv Games Series.

On the final day of the national Canadian Improv Games, Andrew Phung and the documentary crew meet a unique team that's come all the way from Salt Spring Island to compete in Ottawa. 

The Gulf Island Secondary School (G.I.S.S.) improv team is from the small island with a population of just over 10,000 on the west coast. It takes ferries, planes and long car rides to make it to the national CIG tournament, the lengthiest commute of any team. 

Growing up on a small island, the whole team is almost like a family unit. They've known each other for most of their lives. Their newest member, Jacob, was hesitant when he first joined, he didn't know if he would fit in with such a tight-knit group. But the G.I.S.S. team accepted him like a new member of the family. 

Jacob's a unique performer: he plays a double upright bass and acoustic guitar on stage while his group improvs a scene to the music. There's a jazz-like quality to it all: the mish-mash of music and performance blends spectacularly. Watching G.I.S.S. perform is like watching slam poetry come to life.

As for many other teens at the CIGs, improv is a safe space to explore difficult subjects. "Improv makes scary big topics approachable," says Kalla. "I get to explore those with my five best friends."

During the semi-final event, the G.I.S.S. team received a rather simple audience prompt: Dog. Instead of taking the easy route by making a scene about a literal pooch, the troupe performed an evocative spoken word piece about being leashed to fear, gender roles and heteronormativity – all while Jacob strummed on his bass and a teammate plunked chords on the keyboard. The stunning performance brought Andrew Phung close to tears.

After scoring high with the judges, G.I.S.S. advanced to the finals with four other teams.

The air was electric inside the National Arts Centre. It was the final night of competition: a year of rehearsal, regional challenges and practice… it all comes down to this night. Coaches, parents and CIG fans filled the audience, vibrating with nervous energy. Backstage, Andrew Phung lead the teams in a series of warmups, making teammates work with other teams, practicing their vocal ranges and channeling their nervous energy into a pure beam of concentrated excitement.

Which team will be crowned champions? Stream the 2019 Canadian Improv Games with Andrew Phung to see which group of improvisers reigns supreme.