Turn down a discreetly labelled PoCo side street. Ignore the A&W and Dairy Queen. Climb a long, utilitarian flight of stairs. Find yourself in the improv oasis that is the Second Storey Theatre.
We did just that on Saturday night. Here’s what we thought.
If, like me, you have an unexplainable affection for black box theatres, you will feel right at home at Second Storey. And if, like most people, you don’t have an irrational fondness for any particular style of theatre, you will still feel right at home.
The space is intimate. The stage is spacious. The popcorn is cheap. The improv is fast-paced and funny.
Second Storey has about twenty improvisers, five of whom perform on each show. Saturday, the performers were Richard Wiens, Brad Rossington, Richard Meen, Bradley James Duffy and Jennifer Perrin. The crowd was small and rather reticent, but the improvisers didn’t let it bother them. They managed some truly inventive, funny scenes.
Sudden Death mastermind Graham Myers proved to be a genial host, the kind of guy who really puts an audience at their ease. He did his best with the quiet crowd, managing to get a little more energy out of them by the end of the evening.
Myers devised the show’s format, which is nearly impossible to explain but makes perfect sense when you see it in action.
Here’s how it works:
Sudden Death Improv pits five improvisers against the host. Two of the five improvisers go into a soundproof booth. The remaining three take audience suggestions. Then the two improvisers in the booth come out and watch their compatriots do a twenty second scene hinting at what the audience suggested. The two must then perform a scene inspired by the twenty second scene. At the end, they have to guess what they thought the audience suggestion was. If they get it right, they get a point. If not, the host does.
The format means that the improvisers are rarely performing with exactly the same people in exactly the same length of scene. It makes for unpredictable, laughter-packed improv.
One of my favourite scenes had Duffy and Perrin playing a couple who couldn’t be together unless Duffy proved himself to Perrin’s father (Rossington) by outsmarting wolves. Rossington really shone as the elderly “Colonel Kentucky,” and the absurdity of the whole situation was wonderful.
Another excellent scene involved Perrin as a talking mannequin and Wiens as a window-dresser. And Wiens was stellar in another scene where he was a bullied child whose father (played with aplomb by Duffy) decided it was time for him to man up.
All in all, it was a fun show. Highly recommended.
Second Storey Theatre’s Sudden Death Improv show is an interesting creature. For those new to it, as I was (in fact, the show is only three weeks old itself) it starts out a little slow and the format is so unique and interesting that it takes a couple of minutes to get in the groove of what the performers are doing. But almost as quickly as I wondered what was going on, the show began to win me over. It has a lot of charm.
Hosted by Graham Myers, who I hope to see getting involved in the improv himself soon, Sudden Death Improv is a truly unpredictable showdown between host and improvisers, both vying to get the most points. The improvisers really made the most of the cozy space they play in, using every last square inch of the stage and even daring to leave the stage and take their scenes into, and around, the audience. There really is a fearlessness among the improvisers and it became most noticeable when Wiens and Meen had to take part in a rap battle. Neither shied away from the challenge.
My favourite scene of the night was the talking mannequin scene. Perrin played the supernatural plastic model with a hilarious creepiness and Wiens…well, Wiens can panic and freak out like nobody’s business.
What I really enjoyed about the show, though, was how involved the players sitting off to the side got with the players in a scene. It washed away a certain strictness that can sometimes be found in improv and just let the improvisers go with the flow, so to speak. It all felt very natural and often added extra layers of funny.
I’m excited for Sudden Death Improv. It’s fresh and honestly hilarious and if it keeps up at the pace it’s setting, it’s bound to give PoCo a permanent place on the comedy map.