A decade of Fools

Regina Leader-Post - - Arts & Life - By NICK MILIOKAS Leader-Post

IGen­eral Fools

Globe Theatre 7:30 p.m., Thurs­day $15 ($12 for stu­dents and se­niors)

t has been a year in the plan­ning, 10 years in the mak­ing, and Thurs­day night at Globe Theatre the Gen­eral Fools will cel­e­brate a mile­stone an­niver­sary with a per­for­mance the pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial un­abashedly de­scribes as their “big­gest” show ever — an “ex­trav­a­ganza.” It will be fol­lowed, of course, by the “mother of all par­ties.”

Ap­pro­pri­ately, this 10th-an­niver­sary show will be per­formed ex­actly 10 years to the day — May 17, 1997 — the orig­i­nal cast made its pro­fes­sional de­but with an evening of im­pro­vi­sa­tion be­fore a largely teenage au­di­ence at the Royal Saskatchew­an Mu­seum.

It is fit­ting as well that Thurs­day’s per­for­mance will be the first time in Canada — in the whole wide world, as far as any­one knows — that im­prov has been at­tempted in the round, a chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment that brings an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mean­ing to the con­ven­tional wis­dom con­tained in the phrase “watch your back and cover your butt.” Fit­ting, be­cause the Fools have a his­tory of tak­ing risks, and, given a choice, thrill-seek­ing au­di­ences have al­ways had a soft spot for per­form­ers who in­sist on work­ing with­out a net.

Iron­i­cally, the past sea­son has been one of spo­radic ap­pear­ances by the Fools. Due to ei­ther pro­fes­sional or per­sonal rea­sons, per­haps a com­bi­na­tion of both, there have been so many com­ings and go­ings among the six cur­rent cast mem­bers that the Fools haven’t had nearly as prom­i­nent a profile as they had known in years gone by.

From the mo­ment it was booked, how­ever, this show has been the high­est of pri­or­i­ties. Robert Ap­pleby ac­tu­ally planned a trip to Aus­tralia in a way that would not con­flict with the 10th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion at the Globe.

“He had to. He didn’t have a choice,” says Jay­den Pfeifer, a fel­low Fool. “Our think­ing from the start was, no mat­ter what you’re do­ing, you have to be back for this. This has to be the most im­por­tant thing.”

While the cast did not go as far as to swear “a blood oath,” as Mike Fly so poignantly puts it, there was unan­i­mous agree­ment on the show’s im­por­tance. “We all want to do this,” says Amy Maty­sio, “and we want it to be some­thing very spe­cial.”

For the first time, the Fools — which is to say Ap­pleby, Pfeifer, Fly, Maty­sio, Ta­tiana Maslany and Steve Torg­er­son — will give a show in two acts. Act 1 will con­sist of high­lights from past per­for­mances, fea­tur­ing var­i­ous forms, a form be­ing the styl­ized man­ner in which a spe­cific piece of im­pro­vi­sa­tion is de­liv­ered. For the sec­ond act, the Fools have cre­ated a form specif­i­cally for theatre in the round.

“We’ve man­aged to do a lot over the years. A lot of dif­fer­ent things in a lot of dif­fer­ent places,” Fly says, cit­ing an es­ti­mated 600 per­for­mances (com­pe­ti­tions in­cluded) for 60,000 au­di­ence mem­bers across Canada and in the north­west­ern United States. “We use our di­ver­sity as a strength,” he adds.

The cur­rent Fools have been to­gether for three years. In pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tions the group has com­prised as many as 10 per­form­ers at a time. Re­gard­less of the num­bers, how­ever, there has been a steady pro­gres­sion from short-form im­prov to theatre sports to long-form im­pro­vi­sa­tion — the most com­pli­cated and ar­guably the most dif­fi­cult of the three.

“We don’t do what we don’t like. We won’t force some­thing just be­cause it might be con­sid­ered avant garde,” Pfeifer says, and while per­form­ers on some im­prov groups fall vic­tim to an ir­re­sistible temp­ta­tion to up­stage one an­other in the fight for the spot­light, the Fools, he notes, have cre­ated a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment that en­hances se­cu­rity and con­fi­dence through sac­ri­fice, shar­ing and self­less­ness.

The Gen­eral Fools be­gan as a team from Shel­don-Wil­liams Col­le­giate. In au­tumn 1996, they won the lo­cal high school com­pe­ti­tion and earned the right to com­pete at the Cana­dian Im­prov Games in Ottawa in spring 1997.

Upon re­turn­ing from the na­tional fi­nals, they de­cided that, rather than dis­band, they would go pro. Shortly there­after, the newly chris­tened Fools gave their pre­miere per­for­mance at the Royal Saskatchew­an Mu­seum and con­tin­ued to do shows there through 2001.

“Back then,” Pfeifer says, “we didn’t know what we were ca­pa­ble of do­ing. We had to try things out. It was all so very ex­per­i­men­tal.”

The Fri­day shows at the mu­seum be­gan at mid­night at first, then at 10 p.m., and even­tu­ally at eight o’clock.

Ini­tially, the price of ad­mis­sion was $1. It would later sky­rocket to $5.

Some pa­trons tried to sneak beer past the se­cu­rity guard. Some oc­ca­sion­ally left the au­di­to­rium, re­turned to the lobby, and play­fully pushed the but­ton that brought deaf­en­ing roars from Mega­munch, the beloved me­chan­i­cal di­nosaur, whose re­lo­ca­tion from the base­ment hap­pened to co­in­cide with that in­au­gu­ral sea­son of 1997.

The Fools gained le­git­i­macy, for lack of a bet­ter word, when they ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion from artis­tic di­rec­tor Ruth Smil­lie to move from the mu­seum to the Globe and into the theatre’s Tem­ple­ton Stu­dio Cabaret. They gained cred­i­bil­ity as well, by ap­ply­ing for and re­ceiv­ing fund­ing from the Regina Arts Coun­cil and the Saskatchew­an Arts Board. By now they were do­ing long-form im­pro­vi­sa­tion, and their au­di­ences no longer con­sisted strictly of teenagers. Says Pfeifer: “The move to the Globe changed the way we do the show.”

Un­der­stand that the up­com­ing gig is nei­ther a re­union show nor a farewell per­for­mance. It’s a cel­e­bra­tion. The plan is to con­tinue with im­prov — and that means re­hears­ing it as well as per­form­ing it. “We still train,” Maty­sio says. “It’s im­por­tant to keep learn­ing.” The Fools do that by not only con­duct­ing work­shops of their own but also at­tend­ing the work­shops con­ducted by oth­ers. “It isn’t a hobby for us,” says Pfeifer. “We treat it as work.”

To a sig­nif­i­cant de­gree, the prac­ti­tion­ers of im­pro­vi­sa­tion are only as good as the peo­ple who watch them — and as Maslany points out, the Fools are for­tu­nate to have not only a faith­ful fol­low­ing but a “so­phis­ti­cated” one as well.

You shouldn’t let that in­tim­i­date you, how­ever. If you’re think­ing about tak­ing in the 10th-an­niver­sary show, but have never seen im­prov done be­fore, heed this sim­ple ad­vice from Maty­sio. “Just watch and pay at­ten­tion,” she says. “You’ll get it.”

The Gen­eral Fools are (left to right) Amy Maty­sio, Steve Torg­er­son, Jay­den Pfeifer, Mike Fly, Ta­tiana Maslany and Robert Ap­pleby.

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