Close Up On Splendor

Matt Baram: Blaming on His Boots the Fault of His Feet

Amanda Campbell (AC): So, you are from Edmonton. How did you first get involved in the theatre?

Matt Baram (MB): I grew up in Edmonton and went to the University of Alberta. If I’m being honest with you, I didn’t have a plan. I was doing Improv with Rapid Fire Theatre at the time and getting hired- I was doing plays- and I started to live with a friend of mine in a house that looked over the river- really romantic spot-and my friend auditioned for a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I was doing Anthropology. And I was doing Improv and I was working, I was already… being an actor, so I wanted to go in for Fine Arts too. Sometimes people ask me, “why did you go to school to be an actor, if you’re already doing it?” Nobody asks why a dentist goes to school. No one says, “it’s just pulling teeth!” I wanted to learn and feel like I was expanding on something all the time.
And I knew Ron from being around the Varscona [theatre], which used to be the Chinook… he was a sort of a teen star in Edmonton. He was doing plays every couple of months, but he was mostly interested in getting involved with Improv. He wanted to get into Rapid Fire. Actually, one of the most memorable memories I have of Ron is of him in a tuxedo, it’s funny because now we do The Carnegie Hall Show where every week we’re in tuxedos. Anyway, there was this play I was doing called Dreamland and it was Saturday night and we were at this all-night breakfast place at like 4 o’clock in the morning. And Ron had driven down and for some reason he was wearing a tuxedo… and I don’t know why I asked him this, I didn’t know him that well, but I said, “Ever D&D?” And it was just up and go; and we skidded out of the parking lot.
Ron and I have this thing where we just follow each other. We’re connected in that weird way that we just go with each other. We have this unspoken understanding… and connection, I guess, to just say yes and go, and to let the ‘what’ take care of itself. Like with Impromptu. You make the posters, and you get people to come, and you let the show take care of itself. As people get older, you start to sit around and wait for other people to hire you or to approach you with that perfect project that you really want to get involved in. But it is way better to just do it yourself because it takes a long time for those things to come around, and people might never approach you. You have got to get the ball rolling. At our age, we could potentially be the leaders of the theatre community. I think it is our responsibility to be those people, those leaders. We should be pioneers. And I think that people will ultimately look back on Impromptu Splendor as a sort of movement. As something important. I think it is a movement.

AC: How did you get from Edmonton to Toronto?

MB: Literally how did I get here?

AC: No, more, what made you leave Edmonton and head to Toronto?

MB: Um, a girl. I fell in love with this dancer who moved to Toronto, she actually ended up moving to Montreal… just right after I got here, she ended up leaving to go to Montreal because she could get better gigs. I drove a station wagon here with a TV, a chair and a bag filled with clothes, and I drove it to this apartment and unloaded my TV and my chair and my clothes… I didn’t know anyone in Toronto… except my friend Alec. Alec McClure, who I was sharing the apartment with, but who ended up spending a lot of time in Winnipeg because he was working at MTC. So I was on my own for months and months and it took me awhile to even just get out. I was living on Madison Avenue, which was sort of a fratty, university-type scene. And I got some jobs, waiting on tables at Juice For Life and at Noah’s, not waiting on tables, but working the cash register and stuff… and I was showing up at TheatreSports and doing some plays, like in Hamilton, but nothing was really happening. So then I produced this show Reefer Madness: The Musical which we did at Second City… they got us to do it at…what was it called? I think it was called the Tim Sims Playhouse. 56 Blue Jays Way. And after we produced that, a producer from Second City came to watch us, and a friend of mine told me that I should audition for them because they were looking for people to do the touring company. So I auditioned and they asked me to do the touring company for a year. And then I did the Mainstage for about two or three years. And now I just want to recreate that great feeling that I had when I was creating work, and with the people that I really like working with.

AC: Can you talk a bit about the connection between Sketch Comedy and Improvisation?

MB: At Second City I was trained to do sketch through Improv. I don’t know if you know how Second City works…

AC: No, not really….

MB: Well, we start with suggestions from the audience, and we have a director through the process, which is about for, six weeks… and they watch all the Improv sets. And the audience gives suggestions and that’s what the Improv is based on. And then if there is a kernel of something good in there, the director will say, “okay, bring that out again tomorrow.” And then when that gets established, the director will tell you to write down the beats. And that is the most that is ever written before a show opens. Then they hire someone to write out the scripts from watching videotapes. And they write out like a transcript, which is for the understudies. If you ever get the chance, you should go to Second City during that Improv process. Which is actually going on right now. It’s Melody Johnson, the director, and she is so great to work with. I think they open in March… so; all the Improv sets are always free. You should check them out.

AC: What is your favourite aspect of doing Impromptu Splendor each week?

MB: I dunno. I kinda feel like meeting the people who come to see it. I do just love the excitement it generates in me. Closing Night. Opening Night. Those are what are fun for us. The run is a slog. It is the work. The cool parts are the Opening Night and the Closing Night. We don’t have to do the run. We just Open and Close a new show every week. And we have a party.

AC: Who is your favourite playwright?

MB: It changes every week. This week, it’s… I dunno. Beckett was cool to do tonight…. There’s also Brecht. Ooh! We should do Brecht! I really like Chekhov. He is a neatly disguised comedic writer. His plays are so immersed in sorrow and longing, but underneath it all, he’s a hidden comedian.

Kayla Lorette: Nobody can’t blame a person for looking.

AC: Where are you from, Kayla?

Kayla Lorette (KL): I’m from Ladysmith, British Columbia. Which is a small town on Vancouver Island.

AC: And how did you get to be so damn talented?

KL: Aw man. *laughs* I dunno. I guess to be honest, my parents are really funny people and I grew up in a supportive family, and a supportive small town. I had a really great, and really supportive drama teacher. I guess it has a lot to do with being stable and by the ocean.

AC: Aw. So, did you start doing Improv in High School?

KL: Yes. With the Canadian Improv Games, which is a not-for-profit organization for High School Students where you get to learn and practice Improv. And then at the end of High School, I guess it was grade 12, was when I started doing shows outside of school, and I started doing comedy comedy.

AC: Why did you decide to come to Toronto?

KL: Um, I got a job with Second City, which was my legitimate reason for going. But also because I didn’t want to go to a shitty post-secondary institution where I wouldn’t be focused on what I wanted, and that I would look back on and regret wasting that time. Basically, it was a nice opportunity to ditch all real responsibility.

AC: How did you get involved with Impromptu Splendor?

KL: Well, when I moved here, I moved in with Naomi Snieckus, and then very shortly after that Matt Baram moved in, and originally it was the group of the three of them [with Ron Pederson]. And then I did one show with Ron, and he was like “let’s add Kayla to the group.” So then I got to go to the meetings…, which were in my living room anyway.

AC: When you’re not performing with Impromptu Splendor on Thursday nights, what are you doing?

KL: Um, I do Ghost Jail Theatre on Sundays. And I’m at Catch 23 a lot. And right now I’m working on a YTV Kids Sketch Show with Alana Johnston and so many other comedians, which is so great. So now I’m doing that during the day. I’m so, so lucky.

AC: I heard I should ask you about snacks. What can you tell me?

KL: Oh yeah, with Impromptu Splendor I’m the Snack Captain, which means that I’m in charge of providing the snacks at all of our meetings. Some select offerings are: Brie with some sort of fine meat… or a dip and pita option. So, yeah. I’m Snack Captain. Seems like it wouldn’t be an important title, but it is.

AC: Real or Fictional, what’s something that not many people know about Kayla Lorette?

KL: Oh my goodness, real or fictional. Let’s think. *laughs* That’s so funny. Let’s think. Something real about Kayla Lorette. Oh, I can’t eat fish even though I’m from British Columbia. It’s because I once had this traumatizing experience where this woman held up a still beating heart of a fish and she was like “Look kids! It’s still beating! Let’s pass it around.” So, I really can’t eat fish. It’s a shame in my life.

AC: *laughs* Why should people strive to make live Improv shows like Impromptu Splendor a part of their weekly routine?

KL: I think Improv is the most malleable art form. It is a beautiful thing to get involved with because it is always changing and always unique. And it is never about the product, it is always about the process, and that means that for the audience it is always a unique experience, rather than just being a show.

AC: That was a great answer… Who is your favourite playwright?

KL: My favourite playwright. Hm. I’m a Tennessee Williams fan. But, because I’m not a theatre student… I’m more of a book lover. I almost passed out when I found out we were doing John Steinbeck! I am the hugest Steinbeck fan in the world! I love the idea of getting to turn literature into theatre. I find that so inspiring. I’m such a book nerd.

AC: This is why we are friends.

KL: Yes!

AC: Do you a theatrical moment in your life that had a profound effect on you as a person or a performer?

KL: Yeah, Razowski and Sutton at the Vancouver International Improv Festival. Dave Razowski and Mark Sutton. They picked one location and they sat onstage for like an hour doing this improvised scene. And it was all about the character development and it was just so real and dynamic, that, and this is going to sound so corny, but I started to cry. And it wasn’t because it was beautiful; it was because I was so proud to be an Improviser. You know when you have that moment when you’re just like, “we are part of something so great!” It was such a dorky moment. *laughs*

AC: I absolutely know what you mean. What is the best part of doing Impromptu Splendor every week?

KL: Uhhh, the best part is that I’m expanding my mind. There are always the new playwrights and style to learn about, and new people to work with. Also, getting the chance to talk about costume and sets is neat, because that’s so rare. It’s so rare in Improv that you prepare anything. Usually you just show up in your street clothes and do sort of whatever, but here you have to think of where you are, and who you are and you dress that sort of way. So, yeah, it’s the learning and the preparation. Preparing it and learning.

AC: In an ideal world, do you have one big dream gig that you’d like to accomplish?

KL: I think probably the moment that I’m the Artistic Director of an Improv Company that really satisfies the nerdiness of the Improvisers and allows us to do what we strive for most, that also entertains an audience. There has to be a balance between being able to do Improv and see it for what it is and what it should be, and also satisfying the audience. I think I’d be able to die happy after that. *laughs*

Naomi Snieckus: I Have Always Depended On the Kindness of

AC: Where are you from, Naomi?

Naomi Snieckus (NS): I was born in Kitchener, Waterloo and then I went to Ryerson, and then I moved to British Columbia and then I came back here.

AC: How did you get involved in theatre?

NS: Um, I dunno. I think… my mom. My mom was an actor in the community theatre, and there are stories about me falling asleep on the corner of the stage when I was a kid while she was rehearsing. And I danced. So, I guess there was a natural progression.

AC: And how did you start doing Improv?

NS: Um, let’s see. I didn’t do much when I was in BC, but I knew that I wanted to work at Second City. So while I was here, I was visiting some friends, I got in contact with them but they wouldn’t see me… and so I crashed the auditions. I just threw caution to the wind, and when it was over, the producers came out and like, chased me down and said that they were really interested. And I said, “Well, I’m leaving tomorrow…” And that’s how it started. And it was really a great place to work.

AC: What is your favourite part of doing Impromptu Splendor every week?

NS: Um, gosh, my favourite part… is probably how all the pieces sort of get fitted together. I don’t know if you know this, but we, Ron, Matt, Kayla and I, meet before the show and we all go off to work on one part of the show: set, costumes, whatever. So, it’s amazing to see what happens when it all comes together. And also everyone works so hard to make something magical happen.

AC: You work with the National Theatre of Canada, Ghost Jail Theatre, Second City and Monkey Toast: the Improvised Talk Show. These are all different variations on the Improvisational form. How important is it to keep doing different things and playing with the format?

NS: Oh, I think it’s important to work that muscle. I think anyone can do Improv if they do it enough, but you have to keep going, because if you stop, than you… well you lose that muscle. And going to different companies- like Ghost Jail is fantastic, it’s a whole other format. And I don’t know what it would be like doing that seven times a week, maybe it would be cool… And then Monkey Toast, it’s so different again. And there’s all those great people. You really can’t lose. You get to hang out with your buddies.

AC: The sketch comedy troupe Picnicface has a sketch about Women in Comedy, where they allude to obstacles the two female members may face within the industry, and then subvert them to turn it into comedy. Historically, though, women were minorities in Improv troupes, and sketch comedy, and even standup until rather recently. And in some places they are still hugely under-represented. Do you feel like you face any of these obstacles in Toronto today, or are they all phantoms of the past?

NS: Oh, it’s 2009. I think that’s enough of that question. I mean, maybe if it was like, 1998… but it’s 2009. I think that even if journalists just ask the question, than that is setting us apart. And really what we do is genderless.

AC: Okay. Well, that’s good. Who is your favourite playwright?

NS: Oh… I don’t think I’ve got one. If I’m acting in a play, then I am in love with the person who wrote those words…. I really like Eugene Strickland. Do you know who he is?

AC: No, I don’t.

NS: He’s a playwright from out West. He wrote this great play A Guide to Mourning. He writes these really playful things, stuff where he writes something and you can make it work three different ways. Yeah, he wrote A Guide to Mourning and Some Assembly Required

AC: Oh, maybe I have heard of him. That sounds familiar…

NS: His work is so smart. And so funny. He’s worth looking up.

AC: Do you have a theatrical moment that you experienced that left a profound lasting impression on you?

NS: Oh yeah. Brent Carver in High Life. He had this monologue… I don’t even remember the monologue… but he chose to really make it mean something. It’s the difference between saying, “I like this coat. I had a coat once.” And making “I had a coat once” mean everything in the world to you. He’s just great. Also… Maja Ardal, have you heard of her?

AC: No, I haven’t.

NS: She did this show called You Fancy Yourself, she has written things that will blow your mind. She’s like in her 50s, but she has these whole parts where she’s playing little kids, and it’s all in the flip, right? It sends you from laughter to tears in about five seconds.

AC: This is sort of a silly question, but you are the only person I have ever come across this with, you seem to have a sort of cult following for the television commercials that you have done…
NS: I know, right!

AC: I was wondering, do you have any idea how you’re able to make such an impact on people in 30-second spots?

NS: No, but I’m honored. Did you see the thing that was written about the Verizon one?

AC: Yeah. I did.

NS: It was so… lovely. I don’t know. I’m totally in awe that it could happen. Did you see the one on youtube? There’s one on youtube and there are just all these comments, and none of them are like, “this girl is so stupid,” they are all just so lovely and nice. I don’t know why. I’m a little overwhelmed. It’s like my mother wrote them all. But she’s not good with computers so it couldn’t have been….

AC: You’ve been a writer, a director, a standup comedian, an Improviser, you’ve acted in shows at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the Canadian Stage Company and at Second City, in an ideal world, what would your dream gig be?

NS: I want to star in my own TV show where I get to hang out with all of my favourite people the whole time. Matt and I get to do a bit of that sort of thing at Second City. I mean, all I really have to do in my work is to make people laugh. We have the best job in the world. Sometimes I feel bad for people who aren’t in comedy, you know? Because it’s really the most amazing thing to do. So, yeah, I just want to be able to work at anything that lets me hang out with all my favourite people and get paid for it.

Ron Pederson: Buddy I am Pleadin’ the Fifth. Fuuuuck.

AC: You fell into theatre when you were very young. I know that you were doing Citadel Theatre School plays in Edmonton while in Elementary School. How did you get involved with Improv?

RP: Uh, well, that’s a really good question. I guess it was Dana Andersen. I was in a play… and I was sort of always a funny kid, a bit of a class clown.

AC: You don’t say!

RP: Yeah, hard to imagine, huh? My friend Andrea House wrote a play in ’95 and she cast me in it. Marianne Copithorne was in it. It was a Fringe show called From Niagara. Well, the director and she hated each other, and he had hired this other actor to be in it who she didn’t get along with either. Anyway, they both got fired the first week, and Marianne was like “Well, I’ll direct it. And act in it.” And so then they ended up getting Dana to act in it. It was sort of like “who can just jump in at the last moment?” And that person was Dana. He’s sort of at the kernel of a lot of this. He was the one who started asserting that Improv was like jazz, it’s not just parlor music, it has its own art form. He was advancing everything. He really was at the heart of everything. And then I got involved with the Soap-a-thon, because the idea really scared me. So, I just signed on and went for it, and loved it. Like Ted [Dykstra] tonight, I threw myself into something that was terrifying at first. And it seemed so organic, I loved Dana, and Jeff [Haslam], and Mark [Meer]… well, actually, I didn’t know Mark well at this point… but I wanted to do the Soap-a-thon too.

AC: And it was the Soap-a-thon, and Improv, essentially, that got you to Los Angeles. Right?

RP: Yeah! Yeah. It did.

AC: While you were in Los Angeles on Fox’s sketch comedy show MADtv, which you were on for three years, were you encouraged to use Improv as a means to develop the sketches? Or were they basically like, “Stick to the script, Pederson?”

RP: They didn’t cultivate any environment in which we were able to create at all. *laughs* It was mostly just always a race. A race to see who could churn it out the fastest. It wasn’t fulfilling. At all…. *laughs* …. Which was brilliant because it made me realize that I wanted to create my own thing.
I’m defensive of Improv. I feel like Improv is dismissed as a parlor trick and seen as only a tool to get somewhere, instead of a way to get us all to do something valuable. It needs a mature movement. It’s not just about what fits into the funny little box, or the wiener in the box, or the “haha, I farted” jokes. Playwrights have the ability to expand our minds, and shouldn’t we be able to do the same thing through Improv? We have to create this something of our own. It is the adult element. It is standing up and saying that Improv is not just for teens. It is not just for the collegiate crowd. We can use it to say what is important to us.
Before the show, we’re all sitting in that tiny little dressing room over there, and we have decided that we are going to really put ourselves out there. To put our hearts out there. The things: I need this, I love this, I hate this, that’s the stuff that the audience can relate to and connect with. Heart meets heart. And that’s true of everything.
Charlie Chaplin, for example, he was playing a starving tramp. If he wrote a monologue, it would be the saddest thing you ever heard. But you connect with him because of his heart. I’m more interested in hearts than wieners.

AC: You’ve been involved with a commercially successful American television show, you won a Sterling Award for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, you’ve done a handful of Stewart Lemoine plays with Teatro la Quindicina, you’ve starred in two musicals at the Canadian Stage Company and you’re soon going to star in a one-man play directed by Ron Jenkins at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Your interests and talents are numerous and varied. Why is the National Theatre of Canada such an important project for you to focus on right now at this stage in your career?

RP: Ummm, again, it’s back to the organic nature of things. Where the artistic life leads. In doing it [Impromptu Splendor], I learn its importance. It’s contradictory of me to say this, because I have been quoted as saying that Improv is something that I do only on my day off…

AC: Yes, you have.

RP: And I think that’s because I was afraid of being listed as a “comedian.” This show is the meeting of two worlds, and that’s what I want. I don’t want Improv to be left in the hands of those who do Comedy with a K. It’s a way to write, and it can be even more captivating than a Greek tragedy written 7,000 years ago. I mean, I like Greek tragedy, but Improv in the right hands can be captivating, and I want to see it more that way.

AC: Who is your favourite playwright?

RP: Stewart Lemoine. But, what’s really cool is… we read Harold Pinter, The Birthday Party, the day before my birthday and it was amazing. So, Harold Pinter. Whoever we’re doing in Impromptu Splendor that week is my fave. Whoever writes plays, god bless ‘em!

AC: You said earlier that you are so proud of Impromptu Splendor. What makes you most proud?

RP: Um, I’m proud that there’s a like-mindedness among the four of us and a negotiation of respect. I thank the organic gods that we get along so well. And if we argue, it’s funny. We are all on the same page. Thankfully, I’m so glad that we’re all sort of in love with each other. We’re not out to change the world or to be famous. It’s more about vision and negotiation and there’s no commercialization. It feels like Edmonton. “Let’s just do it.” “Let’s make a poster and then we’ll have to go through with it.”

Impromptu Splendor is at Comedy Bar every Thursday night at 8:00pm. 945 Bloor Street. PWYC. Suggested price is $7.00. Also take advantage of this amazing deal:
IMPROMPTUESDAYS at Second City Every Tuesday one of the cast members will teach a drop in class for students wishing to learn about the style of Impromptu Splendor. It’s $5 a student with a maximum of 10 students. Each workshop is followed by a show that all the students can participate in. 70 Peter Street. Toronto.

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