Vancouver TheatreSports' Pants on Fire makes for a fun, fact-and-fib-filled night
A Vancouver TheatreSports League production. At The Improv Centre on Thursday, October 18. Continues until November 17
Things you probably didn’t know about Christopher Gaze, the esteemed artistic director of Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival: he once worked as a pimp, he’s used snuff, he spent an evening in Katherine Hepburn’s penthouse, he body boarded down Africa’s Zambezi River, and he drank with George Bush.
What is not true about Gaze is that he accidentally stabbed an actor during a children’s matinee, was piggybacked by John Candy, was the voice of Boopsie Bear in a Care Bears movie, owns 400 clocks, dined at Buckingham Palace, or always makes his first entrance in a play from stage right.
There’s a story behind each factoid—including the loosely defined pimping (he once found a date for a guy, who then paid him $20 to thank him)—that’s brought out under questioning by five accomplished improvisers at Vancouver TheatreSports League’s latest production, Pants on Fire.
Each show pits the actors against a “special” guest, whose aim is to make each claim—true or false—believable. The use of quotation marks is not to meant to discredit Mr. Gaze but the invitees are not all of his stature. Friday’s show, for example, features a certain Georgia Straight comedy critic who surely stretches the definition. What’s most important is that the guest comes from outside the VTSL walls, giving the show that element of competitiveness that’s sometimes lacking in improv games.
It’s one of the most entertaining formats I’ve seen in a long time, but I’m a sucker for game shows. Past improv competitions have suffered because nothing’s really on the line. And while this is all for fun and the score is secondary, the guests are actually trying to fool everyone. The score isn’t subjective—the actors either guess right or they don’t. (For the record, Gaze triumphed 5-4.)
After each round of questioning, the company performs a kind of tapout Harold (a long-form improv style where players tap the people they want to replace in a scene) based on the answers. David Milchard, Diana Frances, Pearce Visser, Michael Teigen, and Taz VanRassel were in top form on opening night, providing recurring characters and callbacks all evening, while secretly/openly auditioning for Gaze throughout. Scenes about pimping animals, Snuffers Anonymous meetings, and Shakespearean auditions were made all the more funny because the subject of them was sitting right there on-stage watching.
On top of the game show and improvisation, there’s also an audience-participation segment that fits beautifully into the start of the second half. It’s a quick-hitting mini-version of To Tell the Truth, where three people, who have supplied true information about themselves to host Brian Anderson, stand on-stage. One fact is read aloud and each person has to answer as if it’s true for them. Everyone, from the improvisers to the guest to other crowd members, can ask a pointed question to see who is telling the truth.
It all makes for a fast, fun, fact-and-fib-filled evening. And while improv, by definition, provides a new show every night, having different outsiders for each performance with different life experiences makes it even fresher.