Ready for battle
Combat Improv returns for another round this season
Judy Wensel wants to tell you something “totally gross”.
The fourth season of Combat Improv began on Wednesday, Sept. 29, and Judy wants you to know that this new season is going to even more “balls out” than the last.
Combat Improv began three years ago, hosted by Judy in the now-defunct Manhattan Room. “Four years ago, there wasn’t a place for me to perform,” Judy says, “and I really wanted to be performing. I had a group of friends who also wanted a place to perform. So that’s where it started.”
After the Manhattan Room closed its doors, Combat Improv moved to The Exchange, where it has been for its past two seasons. Judy has been performing improv theatre for over ten years, and she doesn’t show any signs of stopping anytime soon.
“The audience has grown. Our audience in our first season or two were you know, 50 to 70 people a month, and now it’s closer to 80 to 100 people at a show. So it’s definitely grown.”
Much of the appeal of improvisational theatre comes from its ephemeral nature. Judy agrees. “I think it’s a really dangerous and really exciting form of theatre,” she says, “because you never know what’s going to happen. Also, when you create something in the moment, it only exists in that moment and then it’s gone. There’s a wonderful throwaway quality to it.”
An improvised scene is always changing, but for those who enjoyed past seasons of Combat Improv and don’t want it to change, don’t worry. Many of the improvisers you know and love will be returning this season.
“Our ensemble features many returning players.” Judy remarked. “There’s 16 of us, and we’re following a similar format that we did last season. Every month there’ll be a small group who’ll do a showcase set, where they create a long form piece that they perform at the show.” For example, at the most recent Combat Improv show Lee Boyes performed a one-man showcase set.
Each Combat Improv show begins with one or two showcases, featuring different groups of performers each week. The second half of each show features all of the improvisers, who compete against the other players until there is one performer left standing.
The performers of Combat Improv are a real mixture of talented amateurs, professional actors, and stand-up comedians, but what matters most to Judy is that they all share a love of improv.
“Our ensemble is definitely made up of really skilled and talented improvisers. Whether or not they’re actors outside of improvisation rarely makes a difference in their skill base. Ninety per cent of our ensemble is made up of actors, really, and then others are people who’ve just always had an interest in improv and have been doing it for several years and keep on pursuing it while working on their Engineering degrees or something like that.”
Building a stronger improv community is also important to Judy, which is why this year performer Jayden Pfeifer has put together a training program for young improvisers, aged 18 to 19. Once the group has been through the rigorous, and likely hilarious, training set up for them, they will make their debut at a Combat Improv show.
“It’s exciting,” Judy says. “They’re the next generation of improvisers being introduced to post-high school improv.” Judy said. “There’s a huge number of high school improvisers thanks to the Canadian Improv Games and I think it’s cool that those players can see that after high school there’s something going on. For people that have graduated high school, it lets them know that they can keep [improvising] beyond their high school lives and into their post-graduate years.”
Not only are the performers themselves important to the success of Combat Improv, the audience has an integral part to play as well. As anyone who’s attended a Combat Improv show knows, audience members are frequently called on to give the players suggestions, shout out themes, and occasionally join them on stage.
When asked about the makeup of Combat Improv’s audience, Judy noted that it’s comprised of “mostly university students. There’s also a large high school audience, but it depends on who’s playing – depending on who’s performing we can get a more adult audience too. It’s interesting to see what kind of performers draw certain people out.”
You can watch Judy and the other members of the Combat Improv ensemble perform once a month at The Exchange. For show updates and more information on Combat Improv, join their group on Facebook. Judy will also be performing Metamorphoses at The Globe Theatre, which debuts on Oct. 13.