Manitoba

Making it up as they go and going for gold: Vincent Massey team headed to Canadian Improv Games

A group of Winnipeg high school students are hoping to improvise their way to winning a national competition next month in Ottawa.

The school's improv team, the Con Artists, are hosting a fundraiser Friday before trip to Ottawa competition

The improv team at Vincent Massey Collegiate, the Con artists, are heading to the Canadian Improv Games in Ottawa in April. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

When it comes to making it up as you go along, a group of Winnipeg high school students are among the best in the country. And they want to prove it next month in the nation's capital.

Vincent Massey Collegiate's improv theatre team is hoping to spontaneously perform their way to a national championship at the 41st Canadian Improv Games next month in Ottawa.

"We are really honoured to go to nationals again. This is our sixth time," said Vincent Massey Collegiate drama and improv teacher Margo Wilson Kehler.

The games will be held April 18-22 at the National Arts Centre, and will see about 20 high school teams from 14 regions compete for the top spot.

Ten students from the VMC improv team, the Con Artists, beat out nine other Manitoba teams to represent the province at the national competition.

The team took home the gold in 2015 and they hope to do it again.
The Con Artists are hosting a fundraiser Friday at 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Theatre. The show features other high school improv groups as well as alumni. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The high school is the only one in Manitoba that offers a full-credit improv course for students in grades 9 through 12.

Wilson Kehler started offering improv classes during the noon hour back in the 1990s and it became so popular the school eventually started offering it as a course for credit.

Wilson Kehler said she sees kids "go from not really even being able to say much in a class to getting up on stage in front of other people and supporting other people's ideas and having confidence in their own ideas and stepping forward and being leaders."

Drama and improv teacher Margo Wilson Kehler started an noon-hour improv club in the mid 1990s. It eventually grew to become a full-credit program, running for students in grade 9 to 12. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

She says many people don't realize that even though performers make up their scenes on the spot, improv is a skill and requires training — which helps build public speaking skills and quick thinking.

"So often as a teenager — well, all of us — are riddled with self-doubt, and we teach in improv that mistakes are OK."

Life-long skills

Wilson Kehler said the skills learned through improv help students with academics and future careers.

"They need to be on teams, they need to have confidence in their own ideas, they need to be active listeners. I think it makes you a better person," she said.

Her students agree.
Adam Steel, left, and Kiera Martin-Shimoji, right, say the improv course at VMC has helped them gain confidence and be part of a community. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Grade 12 student Adam Steel credits improv class with his academic success.

"I would not have as good … grades as I have now if it wasn't for the class. I wouldn't be as open, wouldn't have the same community," said Steel.

The benefits of building improv skills, he said, include "being able to think on the spot, being able to put yourself out there and believe in yourself that you are going to make a difference and you will be accepted."

Kiera Martin-Shimoji has been part of the team for two years. She says the fact she can get a credit for the course encouraged her to try something outside of her comfort zone.
The Con Artists hope to raise some funds to help with expenses ahead of their trip to Ottawa next month to represent Manitoba at the Canadian Improv Games. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"In the beginning of the year, I barely wanted to do it myself. I thought it was really scary, but after a while it really helped me grow and shaped who I am today," she said.

"People learn in different ways, so getting a credit for something that maybe you're better in than, say, math or science, it's definitely something I think other schools should approach."

The students are holding a fundraiser Friday evening at the Metropolitan Theatre on Donald Street. The event will feature local improv talents, including DnD Improv and Bucko Comedy, and previous champions.

Money raised will help the team get to Ottawa.

Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m.. Tickets can be bought online and at the door.

Some Vincent Massey Collegiate students are heading to Ottawa next month to represent Manitoba at the Canadian Improv Games. The improv team, called the Con Artists, are hosting a fundraiser tonight at 7 at the Metropolitan Theatre to help them get to the competition. We asked the troop for their take on what we do here at CBC. Here's what they came up with. 1:44