Marija Danyluk (left) improvises a pose along with fellow seniors Imran Virani (right)

Langley improv: Now that’s using their heads

Students are off to the national improv championships.

by Alex Skerdzhev

Imran Virani arrived at R.E. Mountain Secondary School a very shy eighth grader.

Initially hesitant about giving his all in the compulsory drama class, he soon found his voice and developed a love for being on stage. Aided by his drama instructor, Gura Sidhu, he decided to try his hand at improv.

“My teacher just talked about improv, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ Now it’s been four years and it’s really been incredible. It’s probably the best thing that I’ve done in high school.”

Virani, 17, said it has helped him to talk to people more freely and openly, and doing so in front of a crowd is no longer an issue.

“I am [an] outgoing [person]. It just takes me a while to get there, especially when I’m in a new surrounding with new people, and that really sped up the process with me,” he said. “I’ve made friends through that and it’s been a very positive experience.”

The aspiring screenwriter and stand-up comic is on REM’s senior improv team in the finals of the Canadian Improv Games (CIG) in Ottawa. This marks the second time Sidhu’s senior team has made it to the finals in three years.

The accommodations are covered by CIG. The travel and other costs are not, so the group held its annual Improv Night at the Studio March 10 as a fundraising event. The seniors, juniors, some faculty, and alumni performed.

In improv, participants are given just 10 seconds to huddle and come up with a beginning for whichever topic they were provided by the audience. Everything after that is entirely unscripted.

“Whenever we’re doing a scene, we all have different ideas of how we think it’s going to go, so sometimes you have an idea and you really don’t know how everyone else is going to take it,” said team member Marija Danyluk. “We are so lucky that we have very strong team chemistry.”

The bubbly and friendly 16-year-old said she has always loved entertaining people and will definitely try to stick with improv or acting once her school career is over. She has been taking improv classes since Grade 8.

“When you hear people laugh, it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s cool to be with your friends on stage and you guys all get to work together,” she said. “We have this little family and the best coach in the world. We have a strong bond, and we like to show it on stage.”

Sidhu, a P.E. and drama instructor, and the team’s coach, echoed Danyluk’s comment about the team’s cohesion.

“The word ‘family’ gets used a lot [around here.] Some students have great families, but sometimes people do not have the family connection they want,” he said. “They’re looking for a place to belong, whether it’s on a basketball court or a drama program. You try to foster that.”

Sidhu said improv skills are life skills.

“To me, it is the rawest art form there is. We don’t have to be interesting. We don’t have to have a paid audience watching us. They have to deal with the pressure, but it’s so much like real life,” he said. “In life, you can never have anything over again. Although they rehearse so much, each scene is so different.”

Placing first and second in the semi-finals, the team as a whole was overjoyed at the prospect of going to Ottawa.

“We’re still kind of in shock. It’s still such a surreal feeling,” said Danyluk. “You really don’t know how things are going to play out… Anyone can have an off-night or an off-scene, but we made it into the finals, and it has been one of the best moments of my entire life.”

Virani shares Danyluk’s enthusiasm at finding out they made the finals.

“When they announced it, it was literally one of the best moments in my entire life. Ever since I heard there was a chance that seniors go to Ottawa, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool! When I’m a senior, I want to do that’,” he said.

At the nationals, five judges evaluate the performances March 23 to 26 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. R.E. Mountain will perform on the 24th, and the top five of the 16 currently competing will have a final performance on the 26th. Follow the team at www.improv.ca.

PHOTO: The fundraiser featured the senior and junior teams, faculty and alumni. (Alex Skerdzhev/Langley Advance)

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