Fake blood, peanut butter werewolves and improv

Most people familiar with the term improv might have visions of the British-turned-American show Whose Line is it Anyway? or perhaps the popular Upright Citizens Brigade live show Asssscat in their heads. This month Winnipeg will be experiencing its own special brand of improv — both local and specially imported — in the form the Winnipeg if… Improv Festival.

Originally founded by improv performer Stephen Sim in 2000, the Winnipeg if… Improv Festival returns to town Sept. 20-24 for its 12th instalment.

Packed with a smattering of different forms of improv, the if… festival promises to offer a little something for everyone, even those as yet unfamiliar with the art form.

The opening show on Sept. 20 offers a sampling of the festival in the form of a free performance show at the King’s Head Pub, while the Sept. 22 event invites the audience to witness a live Dungeons and Dragons improv show at the Gas Station Arts Centre — and this is where the fake blood comes into play.

“There’s a dungeon master running the show, there’s evil characters and good characters with swords and axes,” said Sim, now the festival’s artistic director. “Lots of fake blood because of the amount of battling going on — most of the improv moves are determined by a roll of the dice.”

Sept. 23 then continues with two separate events, both again at the Arts Centre: the Friday mainstage show and the Friday night late show. The first will showcase and workshop two new forms of live improv, while the late show serves as an “after hours” type of improv show. Both Friday night selections will include guest appearances from several veteran improvisers such as groups CRUMBS, Outside Joke, as well as performers Kayla Lorette (That’s So Weird) and Amber Nash (Archer).

Atlanta improv group Dad’s Garage, perhaps the star of the festival, will be closing out the weekend’s festivities with the Samurai Davis Jr. & Dim Sum’s Super Mega Happy Fun Time Improv Show. This particular show is described as an improv show in the theme of a crazy Japanese game show. Here, different improv teams compete against one another in varying challenges, the losing team forced to submit to a Samurai Davis Jr. & Dim Sum’s Super Mega Happy Fun Time Improv Show-style punishment. And these truly are punishments, just ask Sim about the peanut butter werewolf.

“That’s where they put peanut butter on the faces of the losing team and then shave chest hair off the people in the audience and stick the chest hair on to the contestant’s faces.”

“What’s great is the audience reaction after the first punishment because then they start to realize, ‘Holy crap, this is hardcore,’” said Sim. “Also, the improvisers in most cases haven’t seen the show before so they play and when they see the first punishment they shit themselves. They try so much harder in the next challenge because they do not want to be punished.”

Tickets for all shows at the if… festival are $10 and can be purchased at the Gas Station Arts Centre or online at gsac.ca.