Lindsay Mullan is so thrilled to be back on stage performing improv after two years, she’s offering ticketholders a special treat: a free class before the show begins.
“COVID was obviously a nightmare for everybody. But for comedians and improvisers, we were kind of relegated to online Zoom shows. I did one or two of those. But unlike most people … I tried to avoid it because I was afraid to harm the thing I love,” said Mullan, who first learned her craft at Calgary’s famous Loose Moose Theatre, which launched the careers of Kids In the Hall alum Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch.
“If I ruin what I love, I won’t want to ever do it ever again.”
Mullan has written a new show called “Warmest Regards,” which comes to the Assembly Theatre (1479 Queen St. W.) on June 16.
“I wanted to create a show that felt like hanging out with your best friends or something really intimate. It’s a small, intimate venue and it has this intimate vibe,” said Mullan, who’s worked steadily in Toronto for more than a decade, including time at the Second City Mainstage.
One novel element of the show: each performer reads a personal piece of correspondence at some point during the show to inspire the audience.
“We’ve had people read an old love letter from someone they’re no longer with or you get a funny text from your father or you get a bill in the mail, whatever you want. You can read the phone book if you want if it was sent it to you. It just inspires stuff and adds that level of intimacy that I like,” Mullan said.
She’s also drawing interest by offering a free class before the show.
“I started doing these free classes before the show, and then I would do sometimes the odd one on the weekend for free. And they just filled up almost.
“It’s been great because I have this mix of people who have never done (improv) before, and then you have people who used to do it all the time and they’re dipping their toe back in,” she added.
Improv is a form of live theater often liked to walking a tightrope, with a group of performers with no script relying on the audience to provide inspiration and then on their wits to spin scenes out of thin air. With no script in hand, improvisation is considered much trickier than other forms of stage performance like standup or scripted drama.
“(What you’re selling is the idea that you can get on stage in front of a roomful of people and you have nothing, and you still have a smile on your face. And that’s what people are paying for,” Mullan said.
“You get hecklers at standup. No one ever heckles a person with no script. It just seems so unfair. People are just amazed that someone would have the audacity to go on stage and say, ‘I have nothing, I’m going to come up with something and you’re going to love it,’” she added.
Cast member Gavin Williams saw his first improv in 2000 and got hooked.
“It was the best thing I’d ever seen and it was the kind of thing that I was meant to be doing,” said the self-described “working actor.”
“I think (the appeal) is the danger of it. You’re watching something that could go horribly wrong and then suddenly it goes incredibly right. Because it’s not scripted, it’s just literally coming from the person who’s creating it in that moment. It’s coming right out of their brain, they don’t have any time to edit,” he said.
The key to great improvisation is collaboration and strong listening skills and a sense of play — within limits — Mullan said.
“A lot of people think improvisation is about thinking outside the box when in reality, it’s about thinking inside the box. Because if you constantly think weird thoughts, no one can work with you. If you’re on stage with someone and they think you’re in a kitchen and you suddenly decide you’re on a spaceship … the audience doesn’t understand you, your partner doesn’t understand you,” she said.
“It’s also about being really truthful because all the funniest stuff is rooted in honesty,” Mullan added.
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