Peddling improv

Tara Bradbury
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Actors tour Canada to collect ideas and information to put into a how-to manual

The tour logo.

Mike Fardy reckons he might have a 95 per cent success rate when it comes to job interviews, and he doesn't put it down to a great resumé or a firm handshake.

It's his ability to improvise, he says, that often gets him where he wants to go in life.

"Improv is a great skill, because no matter where you go or who you chat with, it's amazing how people appreciate being able to talk to someone who can carry on a conversation," he explains. "It's great for travelling and meeting new people, as long as you keep that improv positivity going. It teaches you how to roll, and how to adapt to what people are saying."

Improvisational theatre is not so much about the jokes, but about the stories, says Fardy, an improv actor and coach. Improvising is a skill that anyone can learn, use and benefit from, he says, and he and two of his theatre pals will embark in a few weeks on the beginnings of a project they hope will make improv theatre more accessible across the country.

Fardy, 24, is currently working on a contract with Flint Improv Company in Sackville, N.B., and will drive across the country with fellow actors Chris Ramelan of Ontario and Justin Collette of New Brunswick, conducting improv workshops and gathering information on improvised theatre from every province. The goal is to combine the information, training tips, games and formats into a training manual, which the trio will send to schools across the country, as well as to Canadian Improv Games regional directors.

The Canadian Improv Games, said to be the largest theatre festival in Canada, is a network of improv theatre tournaments that gave Fardy, Ramelan and Collette a place to fit in as kids, Fardy explains.

"In high school, I didn't really fit in anywhere, and it gave me a place to go after school," he says. "It taught us the importance of positivity and creativity, and helped us gain many contacts and friends all across Canada.

"I, personally, credit the games for making me happy with the person I am today."

Fardy has been doing improv for 12 years, and has been teaching and coaching students in it as well. He's a member of local improv troupe Stanley Braxton, has acted in a number of local theatre productions and, last month, was part of a team that won the Nickel Film Festival's 2012 48-Hour Challenge with the short film, "Respect Your Eldricht."

Film, like theatre, is Fardy's passion, and he will incorporate it into the cross-country project by filming the tour to create a documentary DVD called "Improv(e)."

"The documentary will follow our journey across Canada and show that in each and every city we stop in, the Canadian Improv Games is helping youth grow up in a more positive and enriching environment," Fardy says. "We hope that this DVD will be used to show the Canadian government that arts programs have a measurable impact on the lives of young people, and that they are worth investing in.

"If we can create awareness and get the government to take notice, it might clear a pathway for other arts programs for youth."

Fardy says he has witnessed first-hand the positive impact improv training can have on young people, who often start off as shy, quiet or introverted. There's a place for everyone in improv theatre, he says, and it's not necessarily centre stage. Smaller background roles can really make a scene, he explains.

"After working with some of the students two or three times a week for a month or so, by the time the games come around, they're stepping forward and making really big choices, and really showing people how smart they are," Fardy says.

Fardy, Ramelan and Collette are funding their Canada-wide tour themselves, and are relying on donations to help them meet their $6,500 budget.

To that end, they've set up an Indiegogo account online at, and are offering a range of perks to those who donate, depending on the amount contributed: copies of the DVD, T-shirts, improv workshops, even a gourmet meal cooked by the three of them at the donor's home. So far, they've raised $2,600.

"We're all very good cooks, and we've been practising on each other," Fardy says. "We've already got three dinners to make - two in Newfoundland and one in Halifax."

While the DVD will take a few months to complete, the guys are hoping the manual will be ready a month or so after their return. They plan to set up an online version for download, and will make physical copies available for schools.

The ultimate goal, Fardy says, is to empower more students with improv theatre skills the way they have been empowered.

"A lot of schools don't have that much in the way of extracurricular activities, and we're hoping they'll be able to pick up this manual and start up an improv team very easily, whether it's with two people or 20 people. A lot of people say they don't think there's enough interest in their school for an improv team, but I say put up the posters and let the students decide. I haven't seen a school yet that hasn't packed their improv team auditions." Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Canadian Improv Games, Flint Improv Company

Geographic location: Canada, Sackville, Ontario New Brunswick Newfoundland Halifax

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