Seven of the nine members of St. Marcellinus’ improvisational team strike a pose with the trophy they brought home after winning the national championships in March. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Improv tickles this team’s fancy

By 
  • May 5, 2013

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - At St. Marcellinus Catholic Secondary School being part of the improvisational theatre team takes more than just being funny.

“It’s not always the funny guy or the extrovert that will make this team,” said Mary Helen Teskey, one of the team’s three coaches. “It’s not a specific type of person we’re looking for. If you are a great listener, if you can think very quickly, if you are willing to accept offers physically with total commitment, that’s what we are looking for.”

In March Teskey, along with co-coaches Ryan Crane and Kathy Laforet, took a team that displayed these qualities through local and regional competitions all the way first place at the Canadian Improv Games national championships in Ottawa.

For team co-captain Bryan Mark, a Grade 12 student, being part of the improv team isn’t so much about bringing home trophies and titles as it is about growing as a person.

“Being at the nationals this year was really exciting because we got to meet a lot of people from across the country who were the same as us; they were encouraging, positive and energetic,” said Mark, a three-year veteran of the team. “Everyone there was like a big family and competing against them wasn’t really like competing because everyone was so friendly with each other.”

Co-captain Sandra Merlini learned plenty from the experience.

“You learn a lot of skills that apply to everyday situations,” said Merlini, who is also in her final year of high school. “It is a lot of socializing with other people and listening skills which not only helps you with your relationships with people but also future post-secondary education and jobs.”

Mark added, “I also got a lot of memories that I’ll have for a lifetime.”

In competitions, teams take part in four of five categories, where they improvise four-minute scenes on a suggestion from the audience.

“For example, for one of our scenes we asked for a non-geographical location and we get something like either a beehive or we got inside of the Internet,” said Mark. “We have as a team around 10 seconds to discuss who the characters are and what the basis of the scene will be. But really for our scenes it’s formed by listening to each other and being on stage and aware of what’s happening, that’s really how the scene is generated.”

Joining Mark and Merlini on the team were Lovleen Gill, Adam Andruko, Jonathan Sconza, Riya Gundu, Alex Nunez, Rebecca Zseder and Anna Gilev.

Some coaches may view an oversized roster as a challenge to manage but Teskey said she couldn’t have asked for a better group.

“These guys are phenomenal,” said Teskey. “They encourage each other immensely, they are dedicated to each other, they are just energetic and lovely to be around. It’s kind of nice to be able to work with a group of kids like that.”

While comedy can often become edgy, Teskey said she’s never worried about her team crossing the line because the spirit of the games reflects values not unlike what they are taught in a Catholic school.

“At the beginning of every competition they do an oath and it starts ‘we have come together in the spirit of loving competition,’ ” she said.

“(Also) just the way the kids are naturally I don’t at all have a fear that they would say or do anything that would cross the line.”

Teams are evaluated on staging, focus, commitment to make and accept offers, stake or importance of the scene and use of the suggestions provided by the audience.

While the co-captains will say goodbye to St. Marcellinus this June as they head off to university, both plan to stay connected with their high school passion. Merlini and Mark intend to volunteer with Canadian Improv Games, both at competitions and with individual teams.

Teskey will be left with mixed emotions as her captains move on in life, but she’ll never forget the moment they were crowned national champions in front of about 1,600 spectators from across the country.

“It was electric,” she said. “It was like fireballs of excitement not just from us and from them (but) from the fans, from everyone in the crowd. It was a moment in a lot of people’s lives they’ll never forget.”

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