All the City’s a Stage : Hot Thespian Action

“All the City’s a Stage” is a continuing look at local independent theatre companies in Winnipeg.

Can you handle some Hot Thespian Action? OK, that got your attention. The remaining question: can a troupe of five ambitious 20-somethings live up to such an audacious name? Local sketch comedy troupe and Fringe Festival favourite Hot Thespian Action (HTA) has been trying since 2006. The group formed at the University of Winnipeg as a special studies class and has since morphed into its current state of five long-time friends and collaborators. Together, they possess the kind of stage-chemistry that can only be developed through long-standing friendships that extend beyond the stage.

Their brand of tongue-in-cheek comedy pokes fun at common topics like relationships and is rooted in fundamental human truths, which allows the group to take an essential idea and stretch it into something wacky, while retaining the logic and humor of the situation. Basing their sketches on basic truths also allows the group to appeal to a wide range of audiences. Indeed, the group has been widely credited for their insightful, intelligent writing, strong physicality and impeccable comedic timing. Perhaps it is this ability to connect with different audiences which has engendered such success in such a short time.

On top of their regularly sold-out Fringe Festival shows and success at Sketch Fest in Toronto, HTA premiered their first full-length sketch radio program, Pitching the Turkey for CBC Radio last Thanksgiving. Catering to an older audience and bringing their traditionally physical version of sketch comedy to radio both proved to be formidable challenges for the group.

Jacqueline Loewen, an original company member, explains how radio eliminates many of the tools actors use on the stage: “with the radio stuff, you have to make it fast and tight and so we would keep saying we need to ‘up the JPM — joke per minute — ratio’ because everything that’s extraneous, that you could do in a theatrical setting where people are going to follow you, they won’t in radio.” She continued, “You can’t even have pauses. You can’t have significant looks back and forth to each other because none of it reads on the radio.”

As a form, sketch comedy has been criticized for being frivolous or silly, but, for those who take the time to formulate their sketches thoughtfully and cohesively as this group does, it provides the unique opportunity to make you think without seeming laborious.

Loewen explains that what she likes about sketch comedy “is that it’s very economical. You just get in and you get out.” She explains, “I think, in its best form, if you are legitimately commenting on society or life or the human being, you get to say it and then you get to leave it and people will laugh. But if you’re doing it well enough, they will think about it later.”

This hot company is currently gearing up to headline their own show in this year’s CBC Winnipeg Comedy Festival. But, in the meantime, their energetic website and channel are a fun way to get a taste of their work and watch some of their most popular sketches.