Extraordinary positivity: The Canadian Improv Games national finals

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Templeton Secondary School's improv team from Vancouver, B.C. performs during the national finals at the NAC in 2013. © Brittany Brooks

The National Arts Centre has been a proud partner of the Canadian Improv Games for 26 years. Polly Leger, a Canadian Improv Games alumnus living in Halifax, contributed this story. She works in radio by day and performs improv by night.

“The Canadian Improv Games can be difficult to explain. It’s tempting to say, “Just come to a show, then you’ll get it.”  Other explanations I’ve given over the years include, “It’s people-making magic!” and, “It’s the best thing to happen to high school!”

None of which probably demystifies it for you.

Here’s a more straightforward explanation.

The Canadian Improv Games is a cross-Canada competitive theatre tournament for high school students.  Teams play four of five events, each with its own unique criteria, and each lasting under four minutes.

The kicker is, it’s all made up on-the-spot with suggestions from the audience.

Still not sure what it would be like to watch? Imagine that electric vibe you feel in a massive sports area, only instead of puck handling, you’re watching hilarious, heartbreaking scenes created by the super-charged imaginations of bright, talented young people. It’s one part art, one part competition, all fueled by extraordinary positivity.

It’s wild. And it’s truly national in scope. There are 14 regional tournaments that take place across Canada, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island.

Winning teams travel to Ottawa for a chance to win gold at the national finals, hosted by the National Arts Centre, which has been a partner of the Games for 26 years. The Festival gives students a chance to learn from new trainers, meet their peers, and play on the same stage as some of Canada’s top performers.

This marks my tenth season with the Canadian Improv Games. I kept coming back as a player, and again as a volunteer, not because I won medals, but because of what it meant to me.

As a teenager trying to figure out where I belonged and who I wanted to be, it gave me self-worth. It gave me confidence.

It was a safe, positive space to stretch my imagination.

I learned how to lead and when to follow.

Improv taught me what it means to truly listen and be present in the moment. I became excellent at thinking on my feet and, quite literally, making something out of nothing.

For a shy, anxious 15-year-old with little-to-no hand-eye co-ordination, being part of a team and learning those skills was a big deal.

In the hundreds of scenes I’ve watched over the years, what always gets me is the amount of joy and talent I see on stage. I’m always in awe of these young people who are dealing with school and the everyday horrors of being teenagers, and who can get up on stage, in front of their peers, and create magic.

I love seeing students learning how to really communicate with each other, and fostering those skills the Games taught me a decade ago.

Those skills have taken me far in the years since I’ve graduated.

But as a player I didn’t love Improv because of everything I was learning.

I loved it because I was having fun, and because knew I had found my place.”

– Polly Leger 

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