Main photo: Improv team HHS Moot (from left) Xena McLellan, Jordan Ross, Dylan Jongers, Colin Welsh, Keenan Patterson, Millie Cassie-Batchelor, Luke Murphy, Harper Smith, and Keegan Chan celebrate their win at the 2019 Canadian Improv Games Sudbury/Muskoka Regionals.
It was a big day for Huntsville High School’s improv teams.
The finals for the Canadian Improv Games (CIG) Sudbury Regionals were held at the Algonquin Theatre on Saturday, February 16—the first time they’ve ever been in Muskoka—and it was a history-making day.
Not only did all three Huntsville teams place in the top three in their categories—the junior team placed first in their competition, while the two senior teams placed first and third—first place in the senior finals was determined by a tie-breaker.
As best organizers can remember, this is just the second time a tie for first place has happened in the Canadian Improv Games’ 40-year history and they had to invoke a little-used clause in the rules to determine how the winner would be decided.
But let’s back up for a moment. The CIG Sudbury/Muskoka Region includes 16 teams from as far south as Barrie and as far north as Sudbury. Until this year, the regional competition, which determines which team will represent the region at the national tournament, were held in Sudbury, but with the region expanding organizers elected to move the event here with preliminary rounds held at Gravenhurst High School and the final day of competition held at the Algonquin Theatre.
Event producer Robin Clipsham says she couldn’t be more proud of all the teams participating and how the local community supported the games.
“I am always so amazed, and full of wonder when I watch what these kids can accomplish on stage in front of their peers and their families and their friends, and watch them create magic. It’s unbelievable,” she says. “(The night) came as close as I’ve seen to what the nationals feel like. The Algonquin Theatre had so much to do with that: that setting, the service we received, the kindness. It was so generous.”
Kim Russel-Brooks, who coaches the HHS improv teams along with Jennifer Creasor, echoed that sentiment. “It’s such a beautiful venue. The Canadian Improv Games is a nonprofit and they run on a shoestring budget. They can’t hold it anywhere unless the space has been donated, and all the volunteers make it all happen. Having it donated [by Town Council]was generous and wonderful.”
The four junior teams competed in a tournament on Saturday afternoon, with HHS Up To This Point taking top spot. The top five of 12 senior teams—Barrie North, Bear Creek, HHS Moot, HHS Stardust, and Innisdale—moved on to the final round on Saturday night to compete for the title.
In the senior finals, each of the teams had to perform four different improv scenes from five possible ‘event’ types— story, character, life, style and theme—with suggestions to propel the scenes coming from the audience. The teams have about 10 seconds to huddle and determine the direction for the scene, and then up to four minutes to perform it.
“We kind of have to take the first ideas that come out of people’s mouths [in the huddle]because we don’t have much time,” says Oliver Byl, a member of HHS Stardust. “Luckily, we have quite a bit of experience trying to come up with ideas quickly.”
Although teams don’t know exactly what they’ll be asked to do in each event, there are rules and structure to them, and they know what the judges will be watching for. That allows them to practice different scenarios ahead of time.
While some schools have A and B teams, Russel-Brooks decided this year to divide the senior students into two equally strong teams of people she thought would work well together. It showed.
“I am totally thrilled with how they did,” she says.”They rose to the occasion and really came together that night. I thought everyone contributed together to make those scenes. They really trusted each other, and they really shone.”
At the end of the competition, HHS Moot and Innisdale were tied for first place, followed by HHS Stardust, Bear Creek and Barrie North. To break the tie, the top two teams had just five minutes to meet with their coach to prepare for a final scene in the one event type they hadn’t yet performed.
Luke Murphy, a member of HHS Moot, says that those five minutes were frantic, but the improv games aren’t just about competition, they’re about camaraderie and fun. So before they went down to their dressing room to come up with a plan, HHS Moot wished their opponents good luck. And after their five minutes were up, just as HHS Moot was about to head back up to the stage with their hastily devised plan, the last words spoken were about having the most fun they’ve ever had, no matter the outcome.
Those words came from HHS Moot team member Dylan Jongers, who also won the Spirit of the Games award that night. It was well-deserved recognition, says Murphy. “He is absolutely what improv is all about. He shows it every day. He is a great leader on our team and a great performer, so he said it and everybody agreed.”
Both teams gave it their all in their final four minutes. Innisdale performed first with a story event based on the audience suggestion of a spider web. HHS Moot went last with a scene in the style of a Western, using the audience suggestion of ‘you stole my style’.
And after a quick deliberation, the judges came back with their decision: HHS Moot.
“The judges had a very tough decision,” said Clipsham. “I think they were both awestruck and devastated by the fact there was a tie—they want to have something that is clear. Those judges are trained, they teach at Improv U [an improv summer camp]and at the national festival. They know what they are looking for. And for the teams to give all their creativity over four rounds and then be forced to come up with it again [for a fifth]—that’s courage.”
And, despite the pressure, it’s a tremendous amount of fun.
“Before each competition put on by the Canadian Improv Games, the players, coaches, officials, and even audience members are asked to stand up and take an oath. The oath is delivered in a fun way but conveys the heartfelt purpose of its creators: that participants should come together ‘in the spirit of loving competition, to co-operate with one another, to learn from each other, to commit ourselves to the moment, and above all, to have a good time,'” says Russel-Brooks. “It’s impossible not to have a good time when you see young people full of such vivid imagination, wit, and energy working together to create captivating scenes on the spot.”
HHS Moot will compete at the Canadian Improv Games National Tournament and Festival in Ottawa from April 1-4, 2019 against 19 other teams from across the country. The festival portion of the event is also open to other teams, and is a chance for all of the students to take workshops with national-level trainers and make friends with students from across Canada. Russel-Brooks hopes that the other senior team, HHS Stardust, will be able to make the trip to attend the festival, pending approval and fundraising to cover their costs.
See the tie-breaking performance that got HHS Moot to the nationals below.
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.