By Kayla Haggett 
BELLEVILLE – A local high school improv team has spent all year practicing for one night where they make up almost everything on the spot.
Bayside Secondary School ‘s improv team is preparing for this weekend’s Kingston regional tournament for the Canadian Improv Games . Started in 1977, the games bring high school students from across the country together to compete in a series of structured improv events. At Kingston’s tournament, 10 teams will compete for the first place spot – including four from Hastings and Prince Edward School Board. The first place finishers move on to the national games in Ottawa.
The team has been practicing since early October, holding weekly practices up until Christmas. Since then they’ve begun practicing twice a week, according to coach Allison Richmond. Their practices usually run for an hour and a half, though Grade 12 student Katie Curran-Wilson said that last week they had one run for around 3 and a half hours.
“Soccer teams go to OFSAA every year, they go to competition, baseball goes to competition,” said Grade 12 student Katie Rees. “Not very many people know that improv does.”
Curran-Wilson said that there’s a lot of pressure, because with improv they only have one competition a year, unlike sports teams that have multiple games in a season.
“With improv, you have one shot to do that scene and you have one shot to do the regionals and that’s it,” said Curran-Wilson.
Both Rees and Curran-Wilson have been on the team since they were in Grade 9. With this being their last year to compete, this tournament means a lot to both.
“I don’t do very many extracurricular activities, this is one of two for me, so it’s kind of a nice happy ending to the full story,” said Rees.
She reflected on her first year at the games and said that she was much more nervous to go into that competition. Walking into the theatre and seeing people that had done it for three or four years and knew exactly what they were doing was intimidating, according to Rees.
“I remember being on stage and thinking ‘just become a prop, just be a wall’,” said Rees.
Now she said she’s realizing that she’s become that expert that has been doing it for four years, and is less nervous and more excited.
Curran-Wilson also talked about her first year going to competition, where Bayside’s team placed second-last. Though she said they were a bit embarrassed by it, the next year they did a lot better, placing sixth overall.
“We were three points away from going to finals which we were really happy about, especially since it was like a year’s difference, which changed everything for us,” said Curran-Wilson.
This year, they said they feel more confident and ready. Though they’ve had rough patches over the course of the year, Curran-Wilson said they’ve really meshed over the past few weeks and that she has high expectations going into this weekend.
But for many of the team members, it’s not about placing. Rees said that one of her favourite things about improv is the people.
“You find that improv always gets filled with completely unique people that you don’t come across in your everyday classes,” she said.
Many of the members of the Bayside team talked about their bond as being like a family. Richmond said that part of what she loves about coaching improv is watching the students make friends. Even at competition, she said, the atmosphere is very welcoming with students making friends with members of competing teams.
“It’s a loving competition,” said Richmond. “The teams intermingle and interact and they do a big warm-up before the audience even gets into the seats.”
Curran-Wilson also described it as a loving competition and said that the rivalries that exist aren’t really rivalries because all the teams are so close.
“It’s more like ‘Oh you’re going down – wanna cuddle?'” said Curran-Wilson.
Richmond said she has been coaching improv teams for more than 10 years, and brought it to Bayside six years ago because she wanted to add life to the theatre community at the school.
She said there are many different skills involved – quick thinking, listening, projection, energy.
“It’s not even just really about the acting, you know, the acting almost comes later,” said Richmond. “It’s being able to multi-task all these things that are happening. So you’re watching, thinking, listening, and then the performing comes to task.”
On the night of the performance, teams participate in four different rounds, out of five different types of events.
They receive suggestions from the audience, according to Richmond, then have 15 seconds in a huddle to come up with ideas for the scene. Afterward, they have four minutes to present.
“You have to basically write a Robert Munsch novel in about 30 seconds,” said Rees.
Judges mark the teams on relevant criteria such as staging, projection and how engaged the audience is. The five teams with the highest scores go to finals on Saturday night, and the team that comes first will go to Ottawa for the national level of the Canadian Improv Games, where teams from all over Canada compete.
“Arts are really important to the fabric of our culture and it’s just nice that we have this, that we have our own little competition,” said Curran-Wilson.
Bayside’s team will compete in the second night of play on Friday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. at the Domino Theatre in Kingston.