Antiques turned into antics

Long-form improvised comedy is always on the prowl for the perfect parody subject, and it looks like the !nstant Theatre Company has found one. The local troupe warms up for the sixth annual Vancouver International Improv Festival with its take on the Antiques Roadshow, that unlikely TV hit where appraisers travel to various cities and towns to size up residents' prized possessions. The Antiques Improv Roadshow runs Tuesday to next Saturday (May 17 to 21) at Performance Works on Granville Island, while the fest goes from May 25 to 28 at the nearby Playwrights Theatre Centre.

The improv version is as simple as the stodgy televised one, only with a few twists: audience members bring items that get bagged before the show so the "impraisers" can't see them ahead of time. A cast member starts talking excitedly about one of the mystery objects, then pulls it out of the bag and tries to justify the hype. The other four actors create a scene from the back story they've just heard before the impraiser decides the final "value".

This is the company's third year doing Antiques Improv. Past objects have included a hand grenade and a penis pump, but unlike on the TV show, no item is too mundane for inspection, whether it's a mouldy jar of mayonnaise or a pair of dice.

"I was promoting the show to a waitress at the bar yesterday," says producer and player Stefano Giulianetti in a phone interview, "and she said, 'Do something for me.' I just picked up the menu and did a little improvisation for her. It turned out it was [Christopher] Columbus's menu on his first voyage. We always tell people that if they didn't bring anything, you can always find something in your pocket."

Although they're not trained appraisers, the performers-who all get turns at being the evaluators-still pick up tips from the TV version. "You think you know how to do an appraisal of an object, then you turn on the Roadshow for five minutes and it's amazing some of the fun things they say," Giulianetti explains. "Such as, 'If you turn it over, you'll see that this is revealed!' There's a lot of reveals in the antique world, which is good because with improv if you actually take time to create detail-especially with long form-that's what makes it interesting."

Some people assume that improv is one three-minute gag followed by another, but here each item nets a five- to eight-minute scene. "It becomes more like theatre with a really strong comedy backbone," the actor notes.

Giulianetti believes much of the audience will be fans of vintage artifacts. "I've done a lot of meet-and-greets with the antique shops on Main Street, and they're all very excited," he claims. "It's not necessarily going to be an improv crowd."

As this show proves, comedy and curio-hunting are not mutually exclusive. "Anybody likes comedy," Giulianetti says. "How many people do you know that don't like to laugh?"