With Merry Kiss-mas, Vancouver TheatreSports League salutes the cheesy clichés of holiday movies

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      There are some people who start the holiday countdown by watching Christmas movies and TV shows every night once November hits. And, for the record, Vancouver Theatre­Sports League’s Margaret Nyfors is one of them.

      “Especially if you have a day that’s really busy, you just go back home and get your bottle of wine and grilled cheese and turn one on,” she explains with a self-effacing laugh, sitting in the VTSL headquarters. “There are the standards, like Love Actually and It’s a Wonderful Life—my must-watch movies—and then there are the things like Netflix and Hallmark originals. A lot of those are shot here, actually, with a lot of our ensemble starring in them.”

      That real-life experience has made her an excellent choice to cocreate Merry Kiss-mas—VTSL’s new improvised ode to all the cheesy clichés you know and love in the season’s TV specials and films. And to do the work, the company’s ever-rotating cast of improvisers had to walk the walk—and watch all the holiday hits as homework.

      “There are hundreds of tropes!” Nyfors marvels. “There are the magical elements; someone who’s secretly Santa; or an ornament that’s been passed down through generations and brings love.…So definitely the ensemble has to be aware of them all.”

      Because the first half of Merry Kiss-mas uses short-form scenarios and audience suggestions to poke fun at popular holiday shows, the performers need to know the entire cast of characters they can draw from. And in the second half, they have to use that knowledge to improvise a new yuletide romantic comedy using all the clichés they have in their arsenal. Counterintuitively, rehearsal is essential when you’re flying by the seat of your pants each night.

      “The whole idea of genre work is being familiar with the elements—especially if you’re doing parody,” explains Jay Ono, VTSL executive director, who’s joined Nyfors to talk about the company’s first new holiday show since its gender-bending Christmas Queen debuted five years ago. “So when you’re on-stage, you’re not saying ‘Which should I think of next?’ You have to react quickly and be in the moment.”

      Which brings us to the bingo cards. Nyfors created the sheets, filling them with every movie cliché she could think of, so performers could blot them off every time they hit one. “So they get one if it’s someone spotting snow for the first time, an unexpected sleigh ride, someone offering gingerbread,” she relates.

      All that legwork has led to a show aimed at all ages. “I believe improv is really accessible to everybody,” Ono says. “We added five matinees and I think it’s great: having a theatrical experience that a parent could bring their young one to.”

      And Nyfors hopes that even the unobsessed will have a ball. “These stories are such a universal thing that even if people haven’t been at home with a bottle of wine, the way I have, you’ll still get it,” she says.

      Merry Kiss-mas is at the Improv Centre from Wednesday (November 21) to December 24.