Gulf Island improv stars to stir laughs at national competition

Performing for an audience without a script is a fear many might only explore in their worst nightmares.

But for a team of high schoolers from B.C.'s Gulf Islands, improv is what brings them together both on and off the stage.

"I love it," said Melanie Gregory Worsell, member of the GISS Improv team. "I pretty much eat, sleep, and breathe it."

Now, Worsell and five teammates are taking their talents across the country. They've been selected as finalists for the Canadian Improv Games, a national improvisational theatre competition held annually in Ottawa that helped launch the careers of Seth Rogen and Sandra Oh.

GISS Improv is one of twenty teams competing after winning the Vancouver Island regional improv finals. The team includes students from across the Gulf Islands.

Creating a community

Worsell began performing with the crew when she was in Grade 9. Now on the verge of graduation, she can't help but reflect on how improv helped build bridges between the islands.

"It definitely has helped in growing a community," she said. "You discover that there is this group of people who all share the same kind of passion and love that you have."

The hobby has connected her with a whole new group of friends, including fellow senior Peter Hoskins. The duo are the longest-running team members heading into the national competition.

Hoskins says improv has opened up sides of himself he never knew he had.

"It's definitely made me odder," he said. "It's opened me up to explore facets of myself and parts inside me that I would hide."

Growing through spontaneity

But acquiring the skill to roll with the randomness didn't come easy for the Grade 12 student. He recalls one of his first improv practice sessions, where some of his quips fell flat.

"I was very nervous. I would get caught up in my own words — I just tried to hard to be clever and ended up making a fool of myself," he said. "It was like a verbal vomit at every turn."

Now the seasoned veteran of the team, Hoskins is known to take onstage plays in the strange directions that his teammates must adapt to on the fly.

And he admits they're not afraid to return the favour.

"Every idea that somebody comes up with is never what you were thinking. It's kind of crazy, no matter what you get, you have to keep going forward."

He says the spontaneity is part and parcel of the thrill.

"I love the places it gets you, the places it brings to you, and the home it makes for you."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest