My memory of ‘improv’ dates back to my high school days when our drama teacher asked the students to perform comedy sketches at lunch based on the audience’s suggestions. It was spontaneous, engaging, fun and unpredictable.
“Class City”- An Improvised History of Toronto, created by the improv group Action Slacks, does just that in their comical, sometimes dramatic sketches that follow the journey of a fictional family that emigrates from Belfast and settles into Toronto.
The story is divided into three separate chapters, each revealing another part of the family’s experiences throughout each era and within each generation. However, the story is also set against the backdrop of Toronto’s tumultuous history which includes major events such as The Great Depression, Hurricane Hazel, and the bizarre SARS epidemic.
As I sat in the very alluring cabaret-like venue of the Cameron House, I found myself making conversation with an audience member who had seen the previous shows. He kindly gave me a quick synopsis. It is clear each show can stand strong on its own.
When the show begins, narrator Jamison Keating (played by Jason Kucherawy) charmingly gives us a brief re-cap of the previous chapters. The story follows Fergus Connor, a newly arrived immigrant to Toronto in 1849, up until his great great-great-grandson Jamison Keating is in present-day Toronto.
Although the show has an established plot, and actors are aware of the historical course the story needs to follow, much of the show (each scene) is improvised. Dialogue is made up as the show goes along, sometimes integrating ideas from the audience.
I especially loved one of the opening scenes with the entire cast re-enacting what Yorkville may have been like back in the ’60s. The golf scene was also quite engaging as the actors play off one another’s quick-wittedness.
The joy of an improvised show comes from watching the actors creatively ‘roll with the punches’. They must keep the scene going, build on ideas, adapt and maneuver their way around each other’s unpredictability and spontaneity.
If you are expecting a seamless, traditional show, you must keep an open mind and remember that this is improv. The cast works hard to maintain momentum. The overall concept is interesting – what better way to present history? I think we also all appreciated the positive homage to Toronto as the show came to a wrap.
–“Class City” – An Improvised History of Toronto took place over three nights at the Cameron House (804 Queen St West)
– The show played on November 14, 21 and 28 at 8:00pm.
-Tickets cost $15 (early bird pricing and 3-show combos were available)
– Each show covered a different era but told the story about the same family throughout each generation. More information be at found “Class City” – An Improvised History of Toronto