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Winnipeg Improv Festival still making it up on the fly

The Winnipeg Improv Festival features performers like Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall.
The Winnipeg Improv Festival features performers like Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall. Winnipeg Improv Festival

It’s 18 years later, but they’re still making it up as they go along.

The Winnipeg Improv Festival is kicking off its 18th year Thursday night, and as organizers told 680 CJOB, there’s never a shortage of funny ideas that can be invented on the fly.

“It started way back in the year 2000, and we’re still doing it today,” said festival founder Stephen Sim, best known as one-half of acclaimed comedy duo Crumbs.

“We’re still making shows up and it’s very fun and very funny.”

Sim said the festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday at the Gas Station Arts Centre in Osborne Village, features a wide range of themed events and performers from across North America.

Friday’s “Sketch-Prov-Medy” show includes Kevin McDonald of legendary comedy troupe Kids in the Hall, alongside other stand-up comics and sketch performers, but the Friday night show is perhaps the most ground-breaking for the festival.

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“On Friday, we’re animating a live show onstage,” said Sim. “We’re partnered with Flipside XR from Winnipeg, and they’ve created the software that allows them to do real-time animations.

“The improvisers onstage put on virtual reality headgear, and it’s projected onto a screen behind them. The animated characters are right there. It’s gonna be so amazing.”

Newfoundland’s Mike Hammond is one of the out-of-towners performing at the festival, and he said he couldn’t be happier to be part of the cast for the 2018 edition.

“I’ve been doing improv for 16 years now, and I was fortune enough to get an invite to the festival,” said Hammond. “The cast is so amazing. They’re masters from all over North America.”

WATCH: Winnipeg comedy duo brings virtual reality tech to Fringe Fest

Winnipeg comedy duo brings virtual reality tech to Fringe Fest
Winnipeg comedy duo brings virtual reality tech to Fringe Fest

Sim said the key to successful improv is finding chemistry with your fellow performers – people you’ve often never met before.

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“With improv, a lot of strangers can get thrown together at a festival, and we have to find that chemistry really quickly. The longer you work together, then you can get that rapport and you can work really well together.”

The festival closes out Saturday with a collaboration with the Winnipeg Writers’ Festival, as well as something called a “haiku deathmatch.”

“Nothing says competition like haikus,” said Hammond.