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Improv team takes national stage following provincial win

May 09, 2022

improv 2-news.jpgUPDATE: Tommy Douglas Collegiate senior improv team placed third in the Canadian Improv Games national competition.

Your scene will be . . . the first Saskatoon high school team to win the Canadian Improv Games regional competition.

Ready, in four, three, two, one!

That countdown is the way four members of Tommy Douglas Collegiate's senior improv team launched their scenes on the way to claiming top prize at the Saskatchewan event held April 28-30 in Regina.

"I was very shocked because we were the first-ever Saskatoon team to win regionals, to have our name on the trophy," said Hannah Waddell a Grade 12 student and four-year member of the school's improv team. "It was a very big deal for us. Going into finals we knew we had a pretty good chance; we just knew we had to do our best. We deserved that."

Winning the regional title means the foursome will compete nationally against 11 other teams from across Canada. In past years that would mean an in-person competition in Ottawa, but this year's event will see the team record its scenes for submission. That will take place during a performance Thursday, May 12, 7 p.m., at the Tommy Douglas Collegiate Theatre. The evening, which includes additional post-intermission performances by both of the school's improv teams, is open to the public. Admission is on a pay-as-you-can basis.

Coach Clarissa Kostiuk said the team of Waddell, William Yanko, Lydia Corbett, and Brayden Degagne shone on stage during the regional event. They finished first during the preliminary round then duplicated the result with their performance during the four scenes that were part of the finals.

"Their final performances were the best performances I've ever seen them do," said Kostiuk, who received a coaches' recognition award at the event. "I told them before they went on that no matter what happens they have to lay it out on the stage so they could walk off being  proud of themselves. They did that, and then they won."

In competition, teams perform scenes in story, theme, life, and either style or character events. They are marked on skills such as making and accepting offers, advancing the scene, listening, commitment, staging, risk, use of suggestion, and interest.

"I'm really interested to see what is that next step," said Yanko, one of three Grade 12 students on the team. "I've only seen Saskatchewan teams, which is a very small pool compared to what Canada has to offer when it comes to improv. I am interested to see what calibre of improvisation there is."

The team's success is the result of hard work. They have practiced three times per week since October, running scenes, testing out approaches to improvisation and, most importantly, strengthening their on-stage connection.

"What makes improv special is that it's not just the bringing together of different strengths, but it's that we work so hard on connecting the team as one," Kostiuk said. "They work as one unit, one body, one mind — that is what our goal is. They have learned how to read one another and anticipate what they might do on stage. There is a lot of trust. There are different skills that come forward, but they are also cohesive and that's what makes them a strong team."

improv 1-news.jpgThe school's extracurricular improv program coached by Kostiuk and Mike Prebble included three teams this year, one junior team for Grade 9-10 students and two senior squads. The second senior team also made the regional finals and placed sixth. Improv has a long history among Regina high schools, so winning the title was a milestone for the Tommy Douglas program.

It was also an accomplishment for a team that has largely been together for three years but performs with just four people on stage instead of the eight improvisors that made up most teams. Kostiuk, who has had the opportunity to coach most team members for several years, said improv is a positive experience for students.

"The one rule to improv is that you always need to say yes to whatever your teammates give you and then add onto it. It's something unexplainable, but the power that holds in the building up of confidence in a teenager is incredible," she said. "Being able to see their confidence come to life through their time as an improviser is like no other transformation. A huge focus of my career has been in the positive impact performing arts can have on mental health and I know that improv increases the mental wellness of students involved and truly gives them a sense of belonging like no other."

improv 3-news.jpgFor Waddell, who joined improv in her first year of high school at the urging of her parents and because her older brother had been part of the team, the experience has had an impact on her life.

"In Grade 9 I was very shy; I said one line the whole year. This year I am active in every scene — main characters and everything — and I've really grown," she said. "It's given me lots of confidence. I'm not as shy anymore and it has helped me outside of improv as well, just being able to talk to people. I have definitely grown throughout these four years.

"It is so worth it spending all of that time together and it shows how much time and effort we have put into it. It's how we got to where we did. I really enjoy being with these people that much."

All photos by David Carnegie