When Scott Lloyd came to Hamilton, he brought with him his expertise in improvisational comedy. He offered a class at the local improv theatre, the Staircase, where he would teach 18 budding improv stars what he had learned over the years.

The “Improv shock troops” all together with their teacher. From top, going clock-wise: David Billings, Hugh MacLeod, Wayne Scutt, Sarah-Jayne Martin, Josh Obeymeyer, Matt Bandura, Aaron Cowan, Stevie J, Jennifer Filipowicz, Kelly Tilma, Rebecca Painter, Margot Lintott, Matt Psychs, teacher Scott Lloyd, Devin Bateson, Jennifer Molinaro, Jessica Perkins, Stuart Martin, and Mart Alas.

On Tuesday, July 31 a packed theatre full of improv-enthusiasts watched the class culminate at the Staircase with a live show for only $10. The disclaimer said it all: “Accidental adult comedy may occur.”

The show was called “Harold in the Hammer” and it was named after the format it was presented in: Harold. Developed by improv guru Del Close in 1967, Harold has become a staple of improvisational theatres around the world. 

So how is this format any different from a normal improv show? The structure. As performer Aaron Cowan explains, “It is a form of improvisation that starts from a single offer from the audience and leads to a thirty minute show. The show consists of three “rounds” of improvised comedy; each round featuring three individual scenes and finishing with an improv game. In each round the storyline of each scene is progressed further.”

He adds, “It is the goal of the performers to try and bring the three stories together in the end by overlapping characters, ideas and themes” – something that each group of players in this show accomplished with tremendous finesse. One show involved two separate scenes which featured a rutabaga farm and a rutabaga factory that eventually came together and made a deal to respectively grow and manufacture chocolate rutabagas – a product which, in every instance, will induce vomiting.

Because of the amount of eager students, the class was divided into three groups: HUGE Pimpin’, Know Konsensus and JJJAWSS – and if their names are any indicator, their creativity remained strong and vibrant throughout the entire night.

Improvisors Jennifer Molinaro, Josh Obermeyer, Wayne Scutt and Sarah-Jayne Martin play for the camera after the show. Photo credit: Aaron Cowan.

For many, this was the first time they’ve performed improv in front of a paying crowd. Staircase upstart Jennifer Filipowicz commented, “People kept asking me if I was nervous doing my first show. I was a little, but mostly I just felt energized. It’s such a great group of talented people and I got caught up in the excitement of being part of it.”

It was thrilling and cathartic,” says performer Jennifer Molinaro. “I have been fighting the strong need to be goofy, eccentric, over-the-top and in an imaginary world for years – and I’ve finally discovered a use for those instincts!”

I felt like I had the chance to develop a strong sense of trust and admiration for my teammates. We were all walking on hot coals together for the duration of the show…and lived to tell the tales,” she added. “Now that’s bonding!”

The people on stage were not strictly performers – they also got an opportunity to be observers. “I got to sit the audience for JJJAWSS’ performance and watch [Molinaro] play drunk, which was hilarious,” Filipowicz remembers. “Also, [I watched] Matt Bandura from our team obsessively eating bananas.”

Molinaro’s favourite moment was the journey she took on stage. “I realized that my main character was developing into an intoxicated, quasi-transgendered, back-woods polygamist willing to pimp-out his/her beautiful main wife for a discount on beer. That’s like the ‘golden ticket’ for a comedic actor!”

The reception was overwhelmingly positive. Molinaro details, “I did hear of several near-incontinence stories. I’m pretty sure that’s a compliment.”

Kelly Tilma and Aaron Cowan share one of the roses that were brought for each player by a supportive fan. Photo credit: Aaron Cowan.

Audience member Ananta Parsaud raved about their performance afterwards. “My favourite moment of the show was watching [Hugh MacLeod] roll across the stage, feet flying, as he attempted to mimic a tumbleweed.”

I would recommend the show to anyone above the age of 19 who loves to laugh. These shows are a perfect alternative to the typical ‘dinner and a movie’ date,” she continued. “A live show is so much more engaging and entertaining.”

To all the aspiring improvisers out there, Molinaro has some words of wisdom she would like to share. “If you have the urge to be on stage as an improviser…please see a doctor. If your urges remain strong after medical attention, you may be one of us. I’m sorry. Leave your dignity at the door, and join us in our quest to spread joy and laughter to the multitudes. You’ll never be in better company!”

The Staircase encourages creative people of all skill levels to come and try their improv classes. They will resume in September and will be offered weekly for $5 a class. To learn more about improv and how you can get involved and meet some of these talented teachers and players, go to staircase.org.  

I am Hamilton-born and raised, and proud of it. I have had a passion for writing since I was a small child, when my father and I would rewrite Stephen King novels as bedtime stories. I spent my awkward adolescence writing fan fiction about Conan O'Brien; I have since graduated on to writing stand up comedy, still about Conan O'Brien. In the fall, I will be going to McMaster University for Communication Studies, where I plan on applying my hopefully entertaining voice to every imaginable medium.

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