Edmonton’s Bonfire Improv Festival (which runs April 8–12) is a relatively new festival in Edmonton and one of those events you might hear about after it’s done and think, “Oh no! I can’t believe I missed that. That sounds like it was so cool.”
And I would never want that to happen to you.
So, in this post I will do my able best to convince you to check it out this year. Regret, after all is a terrible thing to live with.
In improv, the audience is part of the show. You get to bring suggestions and see the show you want to see. And, if you’re a student, studying and writing papers sucks, you need a break, and real life is about more than just your marks in university.
Rapid Fire has one of the strongest international reputations in the world for its hip and inventive brand of improv comedy. It hosts the longest running Theatresports in the world. Since it began, it’s been a seething hot bed of comedic talent because it invests so much in its player development and holds such a high standard on who makes it on stage (and who gets to stay there). Just in general, RFT produces incredible shows. And it’s not just the high-paid, jet-setting improv elite from Europe saying that. For the past two years, Edmonton has voted RFT as their favourite theatre company in Edmonton in Vue Weekly.
But why Bonfire?
Now, those aren’t reasons to go to this festival, but the following are.
Reason #1: Shows you may never see again.
Bonfire is the chance for RFT to really stretch its legs. It’s the main festival of the year where they get to try out new formats that may have never been tried anywhere. It’s the chance for performers to say, “You know, I’ve always had this crazy idea,” and then try it out. But they are improv formats that may never become a troupe or ever be done again.
Reason #2: Amazing ideas for shows.
Every single show is this festival is curated piece of one of a kind, innovative improv.
It’s hard to even know where to start with this one.
What about Tramps Like Us where Matt Schuurman and Paul Blinov channel the Boss in this Bruce Springsteen-inspired set featuring the RFT Ensemble? They’ll share stories of the working class that will leave you spellbound, even if you were born to run.
Or Babel where Joe Vanderhelm leads the RFT Ensemble through a lush landscape of linguistics as they spin a tale speaking their second languages. Every performer on stage will be speaking a different language. Most of them will not understand each other. You won’t understand most of the words. But this still promises to be hilarious.
Or Folk Lordz where Ben Gorodetsky and Todd Houseman will mine the world of folk storytelling for source material and improvise a three-part narrative braid. One thread is Aboriginal oral tradition origin story, one is Russian Chekhovian character drama, and the last is a cultural genre chosen by the audience. Fast, furious and ethnic as hell, these are folk tales like you’ve never seen before.
What about the solo sets where improvisors take to the stage all by themselves? Tim Mikula will channel Batman’s TwoFace and play out a conversation between halves of himself. Lee Boyes will weaves his one-man tapestry of storytelling in this CHiMPROV favourite.
Or what about Epic Quest where Paul Blinov works Joseph Campbell’s monomyth like nobody’s business in this improv tale of epic proportions.
Or the 15-minute long version of Word at a Time.
Seriously. Want to impress a date? Bring them to this festival at least once. Best date night ever. What could be better than holding hands with someone you’re sweet on and watching Real Talk where the RFT Ensemble air their grievances with one another live on stage in what’s sure to be a very uncomfortable Maury Povich show. And what could be more awkwardly romantic than watching a live improvised Wes Anderson film directed by Annie Pumphrey full of hip costumes, sparse dialogue, artistic malaise and complex one-takes?
Reason #4: You’ll have crazy stories to tell afterwards to your friends.
Probably a quarter of your friends have seen improv comedy (whether on stage or on Whose Line is it Anyway?) but you are going to see the kinds of improv that none of them have ever seen. You’re going to see your friends at the office the next day and be able to tell them about the show you saw called Hostage (format was created by Tom Hill from Vancouver), in which an improviser was locked in a room, where they improvised to a video camera, alone, for 45 minutes straight. You’ll tell them about how the ensemble checked in with them intermittently and used their wild ramblings to inspire scenes on stage. The kicker — the hostage never knew when they were tuning in.
Even if ideas fail massively on stage (hilarious in its own way), that’s still a story you get to tell your friends.
Reason #5: Supporting local theatre.
If we don’t support local theatre, we won’t have local theatre. Period.
Reason #6: Get a sampling of improv from around the world.
If I had to make a case for why Rapid Fire has become such an incredibly strong and respected improv company it would be this — RFT is a port town. I’ve seen other improv companies become, metaphorically, land locked. Meaning, they learn improv from someone but then never seek over influences or inspirations. They never attend other festivals. They never bring in other performers. But RFT has long been the Venice of improv seeing a constant flow of ships coming in and out bearing ideas, improv formats and talent from other cities around the world.
And some of these ideas, like Babel and Hostage, have found their way into this festival. Some of the other formats are, no doubt, inspired by RFT’s hosting of and travels to see improvisors from around the world. As RFT performer Paul J Blinov puts it, “The ideas stem from all across Canada (and the world). It’s like getting your passport in improv.”
Reason #7: Psychology says it’s a good idea.
You need science to prove you should come? How about all of the studies done showing the healing power of laughter? Boom. Or how bonding sharing experiences (especially laughter) can be. Or the fact that, as RFT player Julian Faid points out, via the well-established Halo effect, “You’re friends will think you’re hilarious for suggesting something so hilarious.”
Reason #8: This is a super rare festival.
Not many other cities even do something like this.
Not many improv companies have a festival dedicated entirely to encouraging and fostering innovation and creativity amongst their cast. Not many other improv companies take the risks this festival is taking. If you want to see some of the most leading edge improv in the world where boundaries are going to get pushed, this is your promised land. As RFT artistic director, Amy Shostak, puts it, “Bonfire allows both our performers and our audience to expand what their definition of improv is.” You will honestly never watch a standard improv show the same way again. You might go to one, but then, after the show when you’re out for beers with your friends you’ll say, ‘That was funny, but let me tell you about the time when I saw Faces at Bonfire where Joe Vanderhelm and the RFT Ensemble asked us to send photos in via social media, and then used them to create characters for this show.’
Reason #9: Location.
This festival happens in the heart of downtown at the Citadel Theatre which is directly accessible from the Churchill LRT station. If you want to have a crazy night downtown without having to spend $30 just to sit somewhere, spend half that at a show filled with laughter and interactive excitement. After that you could walk to a local bar to polish off the night.
Reason #10: Super affordable.
As festivals go, this one is incredibly affordable. A festival pass is only $25 (or $3.57 per show). The shows are still a steal at full price of $12-$15 per show.
For more info and to get tickets to the 2014 Bonfire Festival April 8-12 go here.