How do you run a massively successful improv festival that brings together a bunch of non-local talent with a tiny budget? That’s easy: improvise! “Mark Little from Picnicface is sleeping on my couch right now,” laughs Julie Dumais, artistic director of the COMBUSTIONfestival, over the phone this morning. “We were able to pay everyone a small honorarium, but everyone’s just kind of crashing at each other’s houses.”
Dumais, with the help of director Bob Banks, gathered together an impressive roster of improv troupes to show their stuff at the event. The week-long festival showcases a who’s-who of improv from all over North America, with groups travelling from as far as Atlanta and Vancouver. “We kind of selfishly chose groups that we wanted to see perform. A lot of it was based on personal relationships,” says Dumais, who is also artistic director for Toronto’s own PROJECTproject, who, at nine members strong, bill themselves as “the Wu-Tang Clan of Toronto improv.”
The festival kicked off at Comedy Bar Monday night with a sampler show, wherein five of the improv teams performed for ten minutes to give the audience a taste of what they can do. The results were hilarious scenes that often included rich characters. The sampler show was followed by the blind date show: the performers changed into fancy duds, drew numbers, and were matched up with members of different groups. “It went really well,” says Dumais. “There’s such a palpable enthusiasm, and everyone is getting along great.” She hopes the highly skilled lineup helps change pre-formed opinions audience members might have about improvisational comedy. “The audience is a huge part of improv. You don’t really get a sense of that when you’re watching someone do improv on TV. It’s a boom time for improv right now. It’s exploding.”
The COMBUSTIONfestival continues at Comedy Bar (945 Bloor Street West) until May 30, with shows at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. every night.
All photos by Amanda Factor/Torontoist.