Our city’s venerable improvistas surf the elderly 30s

by James Brotheridge

General Fools Festival
Artesian on 13th
June 5-8

“There’s no fool like an old fool” is a popular saying. Of all the words you could pick to describe Jayden Pfeifer, “old” wouldn’t be one of them. But in the Regina improv scene, he and the rest of his original troupe, the General Fools, aren’t the youthful vanguard either.

“Improvisers my age in other cities are the younger guard,” says Pfeifer. “People in their 30s are sort of becoming the norm. I’m one of the grandads here.

“That’s ridiculous to me. I’m the night’s watch, myself and the rest of the Fools. We’re old people. Fun old people,” he says.

The Fools have had some to think about how to age gracefully into their role as fun old people. That’s part of how the General Fools Festival first came to be in 2009.

“Some people were moving out of town and even the people who were staying in town were going to get busy,” says Pfeifer. “We couldn’t commit to doing monthly shows or anything like that, so we thought we’d do an annual event and make it a festival.”

When Fool Fest debuted at the Globe Theatre five years ago, Regina’s improv scene was a lot less vibrant than it is today. “For me as an improviser, when the first festival happened and there wasn’t a whole lot else going on during the next year, I remember feeling a loss,” says Pfeifer. “I wished there was more improv happening.”

Since then, a number of different troupes and shows have sprung up, Pfeifer observes, citing  Combat Improv, Dot and Mae, Hitch Hikers, Middle Children and Improv on the Rocks as an indication of how the improv community has grown.

“Improv in Regina is healthy,” says Pfeifer. “The one benefit we have to living in a city this size is that when a scene is growing, you can either compete with each other or [support] each other, and they’re [supporting] each other all the time. They perform at each other’s shows, they promote each other’s shows.”

Fool Fest has enjoyed a similar surge in popularity, says Pfeifer, making it easier to book improv troupes from outside the province.

“When you’re programming a festival the first year, people say yes right away because they’re excited to be at the first one. Then, you have to go through a few years of proving to people that your festival has the chops through hearsay.”

When I ask Pfeifer about the willingness of improv troupes to participate in a brand new festival, when the odds of things going screwy would seem to be dangerously high, he replies, “Improvisers want to jump. You say, ‘I’m doing this new thing,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’

“If nothing else, that helped us the first year. That was five years ago, though.”

Complicating matters is the fact that booking improv troupes can often be a challenge.

“The thing with improvisers is, it’s not really a job. Well, it’s sort of a job, but they’re often actors or directors or they’re comedians or whatever. When you say, ‘Do you want to come to Regina and perform at an improv festival? It doesn’t really pay a lot, but it will be four days of fun,’ they all want to say yes, but often times people have jobs they can’t get out of.

“Luckily, everyone this year was just like ‘Yep, yep, yep!’”

In addition to local favourites General Fools and Combat Improv, there are two troupes from Vancouver (Instant Theatre and Hip.Bang) and two from Toronto (Pushpins and This Canadian Life). As with previous festivals, there will be a mix of individual and ensemble shows during the festival’s four-day run at the Artesian June 5-8.

New this year is a closing night presentation of Pfeifer’s monthly variety show Red Hot Riot.

Usually, the live talk show features music, standup, sketches and interviews. This edition will be a little different, though. Instead of MC’ing the proceedings and lining up all the guests, Pfeifer will surrender control to an improv ensemble.

Does that prospect worry him, I ask? “I’ll give up all the control in the world and they can do whatever they want,” he replies.

Spoken like a true improviser.

Pfeifer’s optimistic that Regina’s improv community will only grow stronger in the coming years. He sees a lot of new talent through his work with Canada Improv Games.

“I get to see these amazing improvisers in high school,” he says. “Dozens graduate every year and they all have so much potential. I think that’s where the future is.”

For more information on Fool Fest 2013 visit www.generalfools.com.