Montreal

Montreal Improv closes its doors for good due to COVID-19 financial hit

The performance venue on St-Laurent Blvd. was home to improvisation and storytelling classes, as well as comedy and theatre performances.

The performance venue on St-Laurent Blvd. was also home to improvisation and storytelling classes

Founded in 2008, the performance venue and school was home to improvisation and storytelling classes, as well as comedy and theatre performances. But on Thursday, it was announced that the beloved performance space would be closing its doors for good. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

For over a decade, Montreal Improv on St-Laurent Boulevard has been a gathering place for comedy lovers and amateur performers looking to hone their craft.

But on Thursday, the organization announced that the beloved performance space will be closing its doors for good.

Founded in 2008, the performance venue was home to improvisation and storytelling classes, as well as comedy and theatre performances.

Vinny François, one of the founding directors of Montreal Improv, said it was a hard decision to make, but after months without income, they had no other choice.

"Not being able to have shows, not being able to have classes... But just not having clients and being a business in live theatre without an audience, that's going to be a challenge no matter how you slice it up," he said.

The organization was on good financial footing before the pandemic, said François, but government aid programs could only help them so much.

Since news broke that the operation would shut down completely, François said that he's seen an outpouring of support and sympathy from former students and fellow performers.

On Friday, Fringe Montreal and Mainline theatre tweeted out a message of support for the shuttered venue.

Matt Goldberg, the brains behind the Montreal storytelling series Confabulation, called Montreal Improv "an essential pillar for performance in this city" and said he's "heartbroken to see that work end."

Goldberg told CBC that Montreal Improv provided people with a launching board for their creativity.

"They've given so many people a place to start, to experiment with comedy and confidence," he said. "Honestly, so many of us working in this scene are used to making art that lasts a moment. It's been truly inspiring having a group of our peers creating a work that has lasted a decade."

Community lives on

While Montreal Improv hosted bilingual classes and shows, it was known as one of a handful of mainstays in the city's English-language arts scene.

François said he was sad to see the "end of a really lovely project," but he hopes the spirit of the venue will persist.

"Over the last 10 years, we've built up a community of people. Regardless of the building's pres​ence, that community will last beyond this," he said.

He said he hopes other arts organizations in Montreal will be able to rebound once the restrictions on gathering for live entertainment are lifted. 

Montreal Improv was also known to host Fringe festival and Just For Laughs events. (Montreal Improv/Facebook)

While it's not clear what the future holds or whether Montreal Improv will rise again in some other form, François said the focus for now is fulfilling several classes which were abruptly cancelled this spring due to confinement.

He said that some final classes will be held outside, with distancing and masks, and that for many, the social element of improv and theatre will be a welcome reprieve from virtual socializing.

A happy place

Hamid Rezaei took classes at Montreal Improv for two years before the pandemic shut down operations, and has already signed on to finish his classes outside this summer.

He said he was sad to learn of the closure, but happy to get a few more hours to learn and perform.

"It's not going to be the exact same experience. It's just getting out there and seeing people after a few months," he said. "It's going to be fun."

Rezaei said doing improv provided a lighthearted break from his busy schedule working as an engineer, and brought some great people into his life.

"That place had a very different vibe, a very happy vibe," he said. "For me it was a great experience."

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