Kathryn Greenwood, Ed Sahely and Jonathan Wilson have eliminated a lot of the theatre's unnecessary elements. You know, the director, the lines and that all-time bummer, rehearsal. The trio are improvisers. They shun preparation like vampires avoid garlic. They loathe predictability and despise repetition.
As far as Greenwood and her male swains are concerned, it's never as good as the first time.
They dig danger, man. They crave gnarly audience suggestions and the rush of being naked, exposed, stripped bare, surfing a sea of spontaneous comic inspiration.
But a few months ago, the threesome (all Second City alumni) grew tired of the six- foot peaks that are improv skits. They dreamed of the big wave -- full-frontal narrative. A prolonged two-act show that would be to improv what the eight-hour tantric orgasm is to fornication. (Get you mind back on the job, please. -- Censorious ed.)
So they got together, didn't rehearse, didn't write a play and this week, Sahley, Greenwood and Wilson opened their two-week improv narrative spree at the Tarragon Extra Space. Under the collective name of Not To Be Repeated, they promise a different two-act Canadian play every night to May 14. Each play will be based on suggestions from the audience. Before the show punters will be asked to scribble their thoughts on tiny slips of paper. These "offers" will be stored in a fish bowl and placed downstage. The first slip drawn from the bowl becomes the play's title. Then, throughout the course of the narrative, slips will be drawn and incorporated into the action. Unlike most narrative attempts the three will not cheat by using guideposts (pre-arranged plots) or stock characters. This is pure stuff, baby. Undiluted. No net.
"If you cheat, what's the point? We have to pace ourselves," says Sahely, 35, whom you may recognize as RoboCop: The Series' scientist guy. "We're used to bailing out of five-minute scenes. We have to realize that this play doesn't have to be as frenetic."
Sahely, along with Greenwood, took time out from a hectic schedule of not rehearsing last week to riff on the merits of pure improv and the spirit of improvisation itself. Both agree that purity can only flourish in an atmosphere of cooperation.
"These are the people I completely love and trust," the 32-year-old Greenwood gushes, a little misty in the eyes. "Pure. Improv is so pure. Improv is just the most pure part of me."
Of course, appearing at the Tarragon is a far cry from improv's usual climate. "We're used to playing in front of drunks," Sahely astutely observes. "We'll be performing for clear-headed people."
Those who swim in the city's improv stream will realize that Greenwood, Sahely and Wilson are among the cleanest heads in a genre that demands crystal-clear consciousness, not to mention complacency that verges on Zen-like reserve. All told, the three have over 10,000 hours of stage time behind them. They have their technique -- the challenge now becomes what they can do with the art form.
They're like jazz players trying to push the medium. Their Tarragon shows could range from be-bop to avant-garde. But don't worry -- unlike certain jazz greats, Sahely, Wilson and Greenwood aren't heroin addicts.
Then again, they still have 10 shows left in their run. Ten blank slates starring them in the face. Ten question marks printed in bold typeface. The potential for soul-crushing failure is immense. What if they run out of ideas? What if they blank? There are no other improvisers waiting in the wings to bail them out.
"It's satisfying," Greenwood says of the sudden death-playoff match that is improv narrative. "I like it because I'm so inept at sports."
My, how time flies. It seems like only yesterday Gord Oxley, a member of sketch troupe What Next, was a fresh-faced kid trying to make his way in the wide world of Toronto comedy. Now, little Gordie is turning 30. Sort of brings a tear to your eye.
For those like myself who don't really know who, what, where or why Gord Oxley exists, there's a chance to get to know the clown within at his 30th birthday bash May 12, 9 p.m., at the Little Alex Theatre, 296 Brunswick Ave. The show features Oxley (of course), along with sketch stars The Chumps, all-estrogen sketch from Eve, newcomers No Soap Radio, Frank "the Messiah" van Keeken, improv magnet Nick Johne and Carolyn Meehan, a Second City alumnus who, I believe, holds the high distinction of having written a letter to eye regarding the relationship between my writing and my penis. Well done, Carolyn. My penis and I heartily thank you for your support.
The festivities are PWYC ($5-ish) and the cash goes to one of four charities, from which the audience will pick the most deserving. For info call 925-7850. Don't bring a gift. Oxley says he wants only -- wait for it -- your presence! Groan.
The CBC has given Comics! the boot. Mother Corp, in all its wisdom, dumped the nation's only stand-up TV show, despite the fact that the program was pulling around 700,000 viewers in the Monday night prime-time slot. The half- hour show had some sub-par episodes, but many, like Mike Bullard's mock-talk- show, were excellent. Most importantly, Comics! developed homegrown talent. Now it's history. Said producer Joe Bodolai, "The tragedy is clipping the flower before it's ready to bloom -- that's what they've done."
Result? Canadian comedians who wish to do that crucial first TV spot will be forced to head to the States. Say hello to Comedy On The Road and Evening At The Improv.
Personally, I don't think that's such a bad thing. Why should Canadian comedians stay here and work for peanuts when they can go south and actually earn a living? Canadian comics are often criticized for deciding to pursue careers in America, but Can-coms didn't turn on their country -- their country turned on them.