Before Whose Line is it Anyway? brought improv comedy into the mainstream, the Saskatoon Soaps was making Saskatchewan laugh with its on-the-spot dramas.
The acting troupe has been an integral part of the Saskatoon community since 1984, making it one of the oldest comedy groups in North America.
The troupe, which has about 13 full-time cast members, performs at the Broadway Theatre one Friday night a month. Each show has a different theme and each actor comes prepared with a basic character, which provides a skeleton for the night’s story.
The performance is improvised through audience suggestions, scene cues and games like those played on the television show Whose Line is it Anyway?
Local actors make up the Soaps and many of the comedians have gone on to act in large productions across Canada.
Two of the newest members, University of Saskatchewan students Kevin McGuigan-Scott and Jared Berry, got their start in high school. Saskatoon Soaps founding member Blaine Hart, who is also a drama teacher at Holy Cross High School, brought the students on board.
“We used to go [to the Soaps] in high school and watch all these people and be like, ‘Oh man, this is so funny,’ and then to actually go and do improv with them — such a great opportunity,” McGuigan-Scott said.
In addition to the regular cast, guest stars often take to the stage at the Broadway Theatre. Red Green and Catherine O’Hara of Home Alone performed with the Soaps. More recently, Dustin Milligan (90210), Saskatoon-born Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy) and Amanda Crew (Sex Drive) have participated.
Guest stars often bring in new excitement to the audience and the performance. Amanda Crew’s appearance resulted in a sold-out show, something rare for the Soaps.
“It was crazy…. To [perform in front of] a sold out crowd was pretty nuts,” McGuigan-Scott said.
About 200 people come to the Friday night shows. Cast members also perform at events across the province for team building exercises, company parties, murder mysteries and private functions.
“The road trips are actually a lot of fun… especially when they feed us,” Berry said. “There’s been a few small town shows where you can tell that you just made those people’s night and that was really awesome.”
It’s important for improv performers to be able to read their audiences. Understanding the audience helps comedians choose which jokes will go over well and which might get them in trouble, Berry said, citing a bad experience he had while performing at a “women’s night” event in one small town.
Before going on stage, Berry asked the event’s organizer what sort of jokes would be best for the audience. She said that sexist jokes about “women’s places” would go over well.
Berry trusted her advice and the result was a very large crowd of angry women giving him dirty looks.
“Was that new for you, making women angry?” McGuigan-Scott asked Berry jokingly.
“Not to the extent of a large mass mob. It’s usually on an individual level,” responded Berry, noting that he learned his lesson from the incident.
Improvisation is “a good life skill,” Berry said. “Things change and you have to try and adapt the best you can in any situation.”
Though the students are not sure if they will pursue acting careers, both Berry and McGuigan-Scott say the Soaps are an important part of their lives and something they hope to continue with.
“It’s one dimension of your life where you can goof off and make people laugh. And really, there’s not much better than that,” McGuigan-Scott said.
This month’s show, which will be James Bond-themed in honour of Skyfall, is at the Broadway Theatre on Friday, Nov. 16 at 9:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at the door at $8 for students and $10 for regular admission. The Saskatoon Soaps will donate proceeds from the night to the Broadway Theatre.