The players of Rapid Fire Theatre Improv Company have never looked more like family than in the moments following their final Theatresports performance in the Varscona Theatre.
As the dozens of performers who make up the company gathered on stage, the group broke out into hugs — and even a few tears — as the people of Edmonton thanked them for their years of unstoppable laughs with one final standing ovation. It was a fitting tribute to the company, which has faithfully provided the city with smart and challenging improvisation for the last 31 years.
But now, RFT is marking the end of an era as they prepare to bid adieu to the theatre they’ve called home for more than two decades. In their first move since arriving at the Varscona Theatre in 1990, the company will be heading downtown this September to take over Zeidler Hall in the Citadel Theatre.
Amy Shostak, Artistic Director for RFT, says the move is difficult, but necessary. As one of six theatre companies currently sharing the space at The Varscona Theatre, there’s little room for expansion for RFT, who have been performing to sold-out crowds every Friday and Saturday night. The Varscona will also be undergoing renovations soon, meaning the company could be left out in the cold if they don’t find a new venue.
“With the (Varscona’s) renovation and then with us expanding, the timing is right,” Shostak says. “We’re ready to move. We’ve grown out of our current home and it’s time to get a new, bigger home.”
Leaving the Varscona Theatre will undoubtedly be a bittersweet change for the players who grew up performing there, but the move to the Zeidler Stage will ultimately help the company begin those essential expansions, allowing them to double their current number of performances. RFT will be adding shows for workshop students and high school programming for the Northern Alberta Improv League on Thursday nights, as well as a second Friday night Theatresports program. While they’ve built their current audience around the idea of being a late night show, the move will see their Friday night Theatresports program times changing to 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., with Saturday’s Chimprov program moving to 10 p.m.
While they stand to gain a lot from the move, with every major change comes risk. For RFT, the possibility of losing some of the loyal audience they’ve amassed over the years is a possible consequence that’s all too real. While Shostak is first to admit this, she’s also hopeful RFT’s long-standing reputation with Edmonton audiences will keep them afloat after the move.
“It’s really scary to take a leap of faith and take something that is doing so good and uproot it and possibly not do well for a while — or ever,” she says. “I think it might be a challenge, but I also think with time, it will happen. Our shows here at the Varscona didn’t instantly sell out, either. It took time to get it going, and now I think we’re in a good position to move somewhere and have some of our audience follow us.”
A slow start to their move downtown wouldn’t be the first time the company has had difficulty with attendance. Chris Craddock, who’s been performing with RFT for the last 22 years, can remember when he and several other senior members of the company first debuted Chimprov, their Saturday night long-form improv show, to a less than stellar turnout.
“I remember when we first founded Chimprov and we had eight or nine people in the audience for like the first two years,” he laughs. “For a long time no one was coming and we struggled with that show, but we soldiered on.”
Years later, with Chrimprov now being performed to sold-out crowds on a weekly basis, it’s easy for Craddock to look back on those times with a laugh. Still, he admits he’s sentimental about the impending move of the company, the memory of the first time he took the stage with his fellow RFT players still fresh in his mind. Craddock knows the feeling is mutual for the many international guests the company has hosted at the Varscona with their annual improv festival, Improvaganza.
“I know that our guests (who have performed at) Improvaganza feel the same way about the Varscona,” Craddock says. “A lot of them are from larger cities and perform in back rooms of taverns and restaurants, and for them to come and have a dedicated theatre space that fills up every night to see improv, it’s a treat. I hope we can build up something similar at the Citadel in the coming years.”
The man in charge of building that is Ben Gorodetsky, the street team captain for the impending move. A relative newcomer to RFT having started performing with the company just two years ago, Gorodetsky is in charge of getting word of the move out to the public, all while leading a group of about 20 street team members comprised of RFT players, volunteers and tech.
The team has been busy since news of the company’s transition to downtown first went public, staging eye-catching stunts like a “Boys of RFT Bikini Bike Wash,” as well as huge water fight in the middle of Whyte Avenue. While the image of the company’s male players dressed in bikini drag and washing bicycles sounds like it could be ridiculous, Gorodetsky says it fit with RFT’s comedic style perfectly — while also achieving their purpose.
”The idea was to have a spectacle that was big and funny enough to make people stop, and then as soon as they stop, tell them all about our move,” explains Gorodetsky. “They’re just fun activities that represent the whimsical nature of our comedy shows.”
Aside from flyers and handbills, the team has also been shelling out free tickets to their upcoming shows in September, hoping that one free show will lead return visits. As for upcoming events, Gorodetsky has it covered with a downtown skipping rope competition, an absurd tennis game in Churchill Square where everything is real except for the ball and a September bike ride across the river on a 29-seat bicycle from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“If everything goes as planned, we’re going to wave goodbye to our old home at the Varscona and bike across the High Level bridge and into downtown to our new home at the Citadel,” says Gorodetsky. “It’ll be this symbolic journey across the river on this hilariously oversized bike.”
With less than two months to go before their debut on the Zeidler Stage, the public’s response to these publicity stunts has been encouraging so far. While RFT is still by no means assured of a promising turnout come September, they remain cautiously optimistic that it won’t take them long to get back on top. As Gordestsky points out, the driven and impassioned players that make up the RFT family may just be the best people suited for the challenge.
“It’ll certainly be challenging in terms of adapting to change,” he acknowledges. “But I don’t think there’s anyone better suited to adapting to change and making it work with what’s at hand than improvisers.”
On this special short edition of The Gateway Presents, we celebrate the Gateway’s 103rd birthday by telling some birthday stories and talking about The Gateway’s history.
Since this is a music blog and not an exhausted-consideration-on-moments-in-my-life Tumblr blog, what better way to gain some clarity to what I’ve listened to in the past 11 months than order and number songs (one for each month) that I’ve found to be the best and most worthwhile from the past eleven months?
What renowned paleontologist Phillip Currie initially thought was a turtle shell poking out of the ground turned out to be an almost fully intact baby dinosaur — and one of the most significant finds of his career.
Ron Woodroof’s life is one of constant debauchery, highlighted by drug addiction, alcoholism and hypersexuality. When the homophobic electrician and amateur rodeo cowboy is diagnosed with HIV AIDS, he reacts with disbelief and anger, beginning Dallas Buyers Club, a powerful story of one man’s resilience amidst the 1980s AIDS epidemic from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée.
I’m about 99 per cent sure Lorde is the absolute coolest 16-year-old who’s ever lived. Her debut album Pure Heroine’s two biggest singles, “Royals” and “Tennis Court,” both serve up some seriously iconic makeup looks in their music videos. Here’s a quick step-by-step to recreate her look in “Tennis Court.”