Face the Picnic: Sketch Genius that is 100% Reliable

There is this apathetic myth that tends to circulate among Haligonians from time to time that I would like squash right now. It is the myth that nothing cool ever comes from Halifax and nothing cool ever happens in Halifax. So frequently it seems like the general public in Halifax looks wistfully toward Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and laments that it has been short sided. This is not necessarily so and I am not talking about the fact that as I type these words Paul McCartney is hanging about our fair city (in the glorious sunshine and mild summer heat) readying for his concert tonight in the park where we have all played Frisbee, walked our dogs, jogged, rode our bikes and sunbathed. No, I am referring to the success of some of Halifax/Dartmouth’s own talents, specifically the popularity of a little video sketch called Powerthirst.
Powerthirst currently has 15, 414, 516 views on youtube (a number of hits that this blogger only dreams about!) and Picnicface, the Halifax-based sketch comedy troupe that has been running like Kenyans since 2006, has garnered fans across North America and around the world. Although Picnicface has reached Internet celebrity and their youtube videos have joined Sidney Crosby and Ellen Page as being household names across HRM, if not throughout the province, what many people don’t seem to realize is that living in Halifax gives you a huge advantage over the hoards of other Picnicface fans living elsewhere, because every second Sunday the Picnicface boys and girls do a live show for just five bucks at the Paragon on Gottigen Street.
On July 5th I found myself at the Old Marquee Club, now known as Paragon, in a slowly gentrified strip of Gottingen Street, surrounded by young hipsters in skinny jeans, sipping soy beverages and seeking Halifax’s small (but mighty) Independent Theatre scene. It became apparent that a large number of the audience that filled Paragon for the newest Picnicface show avidly attended the shows and were familiar with the troupe’s style and their sketches. Although, I was a little surprised by how easy it was to snag a seat in the relatively small venue considering the live shows are biweekly and this troupe is internationally known. I was thrilled, however, that the show boasted of entirely new sketches that you cannot see anywhere else.
The Picnicface Troupe, made up of Andrew Bush, Kyle Dooley, Cheryl Hann, Mark Little, Brian MacQuarrie (who was MIA in the July 5th show), Evany Rosen, Scott Vrooman and Bill Wood, are masters at creating the ultimate succinct, clever, absurdist sketches which always seem to walk the line between sketch and improvisation. There is this laissez-faire ambiance surrounding Picnicface which suggests that at any moment an unexpected hullabaloo could ignite, and Little and Bush would calmly and wryly catapult its hilarious elements into the show. When the sketches are particularly incredible, it seems as though they are being created spontaneously and the audience is prone to wondering whether particular moments emerged organically or were deftly scripted by the troupe.
Highlights from the July 5th show included Kyle Dooley’s remarkable 1940s gangster voice, Andrew Bush’s exuberant shoe/jacket salesman, the sophisticated witty word artistry displayed in Bill Wood and Kyle Dooley’s scamply radio play, the cleverness of the Scott Vrooman/ Mark Little sketch which reflected on the marvel of the evolution process from babyhood to adulthood, Bill Wood’s disgruntled crazy employee, and Mark Little’s cartoon-like Agent Buttburger. There was a clear sense of continuity between the sketches as there were recurring characters sprinkled throughout as well as referential sketches. At the end of the show a multitude of familiar characters crowded into one sketch which provided a clever sense of conclusion. Despite some technical glitches, Bush and Little’s comic timing and sense of confidence turned any hitch into a source of glee rather than irritation.
After an intermission where patrons were encouraged to pay visit to the bartender, the Picnicface gang treated the audience to some Improv, which was quite basic, but ultimately entertaining. The highlight of the Improv was Andrew Bush’s rap about racism. It’s interesting to note that the members of Picnicface have recently returned to Halifax from Edmonton where they were performing at Improvaganza at the Varscona Theatre. This proves to me why I think it is so important for the theatre community in Canada to be aware of the events and the talented performers all across the country, because ultimately we are all connected, and so often our worlds collide and our talents are given opportunities to overlap. Improvaganza is the perfect example, as members of Rapid Fire Theatre (which includes many members of Teatro la Quindicina) played host to Improvisers that I blog about frequently in Toronto as well as Picnicface from Halifax. I love seeing artists from across the country playing and learning from one another and I hope that these opportunities will only increase in the future!
Next Sunday, July 19th, 2009 will be Picnicface’s last show before they go on hiatus for the summer, so I encourage you all to support these talented folks and head over to Paragon (2037 Gottingen Street) at 8:00pm for the show. It costs an incredible mere $5.00 and is well worth its weight in the power of 500 babies.

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