Grown-ups are retreating to a downtown Okotoks studio for the rare opportunity to act up every Friday night.
Studio Me Creative Arts and Wellness has been playing host to weekly drop-in improv classes the past four months, giving those with a love of thinking on the spot a place to let loose.
“It’s very entry-level performing arts,” said artistic director Joseph Tubb. “It’s being able to think on your feet and just being spontaneous and open.”
Tubb brought Elizabeth Street Improv to Okotoks in May with assistance from partner Brooke Ramsay to build an improv community in the Foothills after joining The Kinkonauts improv theatre company in Calgary five years ago.
“We just wanted to make a community here in the Foothills,” said Tubb. “Brooke went to high school at the Comp and I worked in Okotoks for a couple of years when I was an environmental scientist. We just saw there was a gap for improv in the Foothills.”
Elizabeth Street Improv gets participants warming up with exercises and performing scenes with a theme every week ranging from characters to idea generation. Tubb said about half a dozen people typically attend, although the numbers doubled that some weeks.
“We’ve just been putting out a social media campaign and it’s gotten us quite a few regulars,” he said. “What I hear a lot is people come to blow off steam. When they have a hard week they can just come and play. People say it’s like adults playing pretend.”
That’s what attracted Ramsay to improv a year and a half ago.
She saw her first improv show on a date at Edmonton’s Rapid Fire Theatre and was intrigued.
“I have never seen adults have so much fun, I only ever see kids having that much fun,” she said. “That’s what really turned me on to improv. I started going to drop-in classes and dove right in.”
Ramsay took intensive improv classes in Chicago, the birthplace of improv, and joined different performing groups in Calgary.
“It’s been transformative for me,” she said. “I have undiagnosed ADHD and improv was the first thing that felt like my brain was satisfied. I felt really present and that reflects into the rest of my life. It helps in social situations and calming down in stressful situations.”
Ramsay is enjoying building an improv community in Okotoks.
“It’s been really cool to be doing something a little bit different in the community,” she said. “What I’ve been most surprised by is how much talent there is. I’m so impressed with the humour that comes out of the group that’s been taking our drop-in classes.”
Once a month, Elizabeth Street Improv hosts its Live in Studio show, bringing experienced improv groups from Calgary to perform. August was the first month an Okotoks group, The Street Team, got up on stage.
“They opened for our last show and I was so impressed with them,” said Ramsay. “They were getting so many laughs and doing such an amazing job on stage, which is a total delight to see people come out and shine.”
The next show is on Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m., featuring Okotoks musician Kelsey Raine with another performance by The Street Team.
The Street Team member, and one of Elizabeth Street Improv’s biggest fans, is Jessica Gore.
“I love it,” said the 23-year-old improv natural. “It’s always so uplifting. It’s the best adult play I’ve ever experienced, to be inspired by other people and free to be yourself and not judged.”
Seventeen-year-old Evan Nisi attended his first improv experience with Elizabeth Street Improv at the end of August. Nisi has acting experience in high school, as well as with Windmill Theatre Company and Dewdney Players Group Theatre.
“Improv offers so many skills that relate to acting,” he said.
Nisi brought along friend Jack Pugh, who has no experience with acting but is a singer who’s attended his share of competitions – one of which he forgot all of the words to his song.
“I’m a good sport, I will try anything once,” he said.
Pugh said he enjoyed the segment of the evening where participants were challenged to tell personal stories on the spot. He expects he’ll return.
“It’s something I could do again,” he said. “I feel like I could get better at it.”
Also new to improv are husband and wife team Linda Macallum and Ross Youngblood.
“We wanted to see what it was all about,” said Macallum. “It interested me enough to talk my husband into it.”
Macallum said she was blown away by how witty the participants were.
“They’re just so quick,” she said.
Youngblood saw improv as a way to improve his public speaking skills.
“I thought it would be a good way to just loosen up and not care about what people think,” he said. “It builds your confidence. It makes you more witty and animated.”
The drop-in sessions cost $7 or $60 for 10 sessions. The first session is free.
Tickets to see Live in Studio cost $12 for adults ($10 in advance) and $8 for students and can be purchased at Elizabeth Street Improv on Facebook.
Elizabeth Street Improv is offering a six-week Introduction to Improv Comedy Sunday afternoons starting Sept. 15. More details are available on the Facebook page.