SAMC Theatre Grads Make Funny Money

TWU alum John Voth performs comedy improv with Panic Squad

SAMC sat down with a pair of our recent grads to chat about where their comedy improv chops have taken them since graduating from Trinity Western University.

Megan Couch, who graduated last spring after tickling TWU audiences with roles such as Mercutio, has been keeping busy with projects including The Cultch's IGNITE! Festival - creating and performing a devised theatre piece directed by fellow SAMC Theatre alum Becky MacDormand. Having torn up the stage in her student days at 11:07, TWU's bi-weekly comedy improv show, Megan recently joined the ranks of Vancouver's professional improv performers.

John Voth, who starred in popular TWU productionsThe Importance of Being EarnestThe Taming of the ShrewThe Ristretto ProposalAs You Like It, and Pride and Prejudice, is now playing stages such as Pacific Theatre and The Arts Club with an upcoming gig at Bard on the Beach...but his not-so-secret passion is spreading love and laughter as an improv comedian. In between performances of his own this past summer, John also taught improv to kids at the Pacific Theatre Summer Theatre School.

SAMC: What sorts of improv gigs have you had since graduating?

MC: I have been workshopping and performing with Sin Peaks Improvised Soap Opera for over three months now.

JV: I've been fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of Vancouver Theatre Sports Rookie League, where we get training and performance opportunities every week. It's pretty radical, as the teenagers are saying. I feel lucky. I also get to perform with The Panic Squad, a clean comedy improv group, and regulary get to perform in front of audiences across Canada. Other than that, I sometimes get hired out by fellow improvisors I've worked with before who have their own groups. It's a fun community.

SAMC: What are the qualities that make a good improv performer?

MC:  To me, it's not about "being funny." It's about being present and listening to what's going on in the scene, what your co-players are telling you, and making rational choices. And then hoping that it turns out funny.

JV: The first quality is personality. If you're confident in who you are and let your personality shine through, people will want to watch you, even and especially because you're failing. Audiences want to see performers have fun onstage. So, if you're comfortable and not hiding what makes you unique, you'll be very fun to work with.

The second quality is training. I'd say the best improvisors I've worked with have put in the effort to train and learn the rules of improv well enough that they know when to break them. Improv is all about playing and creating miniature lives onstage, so if you understand the boundaries of the sandbox you're playing in, you can relax and actually play, instead of wandering out onto the road.

The last quality is a mixture of joy and curiosity. As an improvisor, I've done scenes about doctors, lovers, shop transactions, and aliens hundreds of times. I know I'll be doing them again. So what do we do as improvisors? Instead of being apprehensive, we approach these scenes with joy and curiosity. What else could possibly happen in those situations? That's where your scene partner comes in. Usually the best scenes are created out of a creative brainfart somebody let slip out.

SAMC: Do you find yourself using improv skills in other areas of your life?

MC:  I don't really understand how to be an adult so I pretty much play adult-life improv every day.

JV: In all of my acting! It helps so much in theatre, and especially comedy, to let impulses out quickly. In auditions for film and commercials, they want you to improvise all the time. Every once in a while I have a roaming character gig, where I get to dress up as the Fonz, for example, and interact with people. Improv is a huge help there. And whenever the cops confront me, I improvise like wild.