author: quinn bell | a&c writer
Fierce! / Courtesy of Combat improv
Yes, let’s smackdown?
The stakes are high. Perhaps never higher than now. The prized comedy crow” and an old Hillbilly Vac Shack-style gorilla mask are on the line. Sweat included. Two halves, two prizes, two fierce competitions. This is: Tournament of Champions.
On Friday night at their West 11th theatre, Hitchhikers Improv hosted the finale of this season’s combat improv series, also known as Gorilla theatre (hence the sweaty mask, I guess). For only $10, crowds had the opportunity to watch some of Regina’s most consistently hilarious comedians go head-to-head in a bid for votes. While not quite CBC’s The Debaters, with its ever-punny host and deadly, relevant humour, Hitchhikers and their Tournament of Champions stands out as local entertainment that Reginans should be proud of.
Seemingly decided on by a confused host only at the last combat show, Tournament of Champions is kind of a funny title. That being said, the performances put on by these folks are worthy of the name! The first half of a Hitchhikers Combat show sees two teams of three duking it out on stage. Silly as ever, the first half always looks more like traditional improv. I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing! As an audience member, it can be fun trying to figure out what sort of games they’re playing, what format they’ve been practicing.
Admittedly, the first half of most Hitchhikers shows is a bit of a warm-up for the audience. It gets the crowd to loosen up, to start laughing (albeit sometimes awkwardly), and to have a beer or two. It also gives some of the less-experienced members of the troupe time on stage to hone their craft. This is smart scheduling, in my opinion. One thing to love about combat shows, though, is the mingling of the teams. Members of the various levels of House Teams and of the Hitchhikers themselves are all thrown into the competition together. This is a really cool opportunity for everyone on stage, and it’s honestly refreshing for the audience to see new interactions up on stage.
This comes to life most in the second half of Gorilla theatre shows. On Friday, three experienced directors took to the stage and competed for the gorilla mask (these were Tom Duffy, Maxwell Adamson, and Morgan Dominix). To fight, the directors take turns selecting actors from a talent pool, and “direct” a scene with them (I say direct”because on occasion a director will just sort of say “go,” and leave the improvisers to, well, improvise). The talent pool is made up of Hitchhikers from many of the different teams, so performers could end up on stage with someone whom they’ve never been with before. While trust and team chemistry are really important elements in theatre, some of the best and craziest moments come from these unexpected interactions.
How do these fierce fights look on stage? It wouldn’t be an improv show without involving the audience. “Give me a location,” they ask, or “Shout out a type of relationship.” Then they craft a scene from there. Some directors are more actively involved with the scene, interrupting it often, perhaps telling an actor to be more emotional or to milk the (probably terrible) accent they’re using. It’s a lot of fun to watch.
Other directors might give their drama warriors a simple theme before the round, perhaps inspired by a film or song. But directors need to choose their actors well. Last show, Morgan Dominix wanted her team to reenact an episode from The Office. She assigned them each a character… and none of them really knew what they were doing or who their character was. Obviously, it flatlined a bit. At the same time, it was hilarious to laugh at the improvisers straining to make it work, not knowing anything about their characters. Had Dominix picked different talent, it would have been a totally different skit – the beauty of Combat Improv. Despite her team’s Office performance in November, Dominix made it to the finals on Friday and crushed the competition, taking home the Gorilla mask.
Catch Hitchhiker’s Improv almost every Friday night at their theatre downtown on West 11th, at 8 p.m. Aside from combat, they have regular themed performances, nights featuring the House teams, and the occasional guest artist. You can also catch the troupe doing stand-up nights (called B*Rude) at the Brewed Awakening on Dewdney (lovingly called Brewdney). If you’re looking for a local laugh with some super friendly people, Hitchhikers is a great way to spend a Friday night.