A decade of 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.