Deep in the bowels of Granville Island lies Vancouver TheatreSports League, one of the most famed improv theatres in the city. Deep in the bowels of the Vancouver TheatreSports League lies Denise Jones, who double-times as both VTSL’s artistic director and a seasoned cast member. To put it lightly, Jones knows a thing or a thousand about improv.
Instead of talking about what she knows best, we asked Jones to explain the company’s workings, black holes, and why you should never name a vehicle Gordon in the span of about 10 minutes. We’re still struggling to process it.
My name is Denise Jones, and I’m the artistic director for Vancouver TheatreSports League.
Can you give us a little bit of background on Vancouver TheatreSports ?
Well, we’re heading into our 35th year as a theatre company, we started way back in the 80s. We do improv theatre down on Granville Island, about 11 shows a week.
What are TheatreSports?
TheatreSports is when comedy meets competition, so two teams go head to head, each doing an improv scene. The audience are judges, so they score each scene from 1 to 5. It’s a format that’s licensed and created by Keith Johnstone, the original guru of improv. He came up with this format, and now theatres all over the world do it.
We do 11 shows. On Wednesdays, there’s a 7 o’clock TheatreSports, then a show called Improv Test Kitchen where we try brand new formats that our players have come up with, ranging from a teen slasher movie to comedic, stripper improv. We’ve done improvised Twilight Zone… Thursday nights we have Trip Improviser running, which is a show inspired by your travels and sending up terrible reviews on Trip Advisor. We also do a late show, which is slightly racier. We have a Rookie Show on Sundays for our up-and-comers. Then there’s a brand new show that’s opening in October, the Superhero Show, which will be a completely improvised superhero movie.
What show owns your heart?
It’s like picking a favourite child. I love a 9:30 TheatreSports on a Saturday night, because it’s always sold out, rock-show, high energy. I also like doing the slightly weirder improvised Twilight Zone.
What went down at the last TheatreSports show?
They’re normally about anything and everything, every night it’s inspired by the audience. We reenacted a woman’s first kiss, she was a French woman at band camp in Majorca, and he was a really messy Italian guy who slobbered all over her face.
I take back that question. Too much information. What do you think makes your theatre unique?
I think that we strive for more theatricality. A lot of our improvisers aren’t just comedians, they’re actually successful television and theatre actors in their own right. We strive for committed, theatrical improv. There’s a bunch of different styles around town, but that’s our brand, we try to meet that all the time.
Improvising is all about being put on the spot, so we’re going to put you on the spot here. What do you think makes the planets move?
Hmm… Everyone’s chemistry, everyone’s drawn to each other. All these people drawn to each other makes the planets slowly move with that deep gravitational pull we have.
In the laundry room in my building. That’s where all random things go to die, from car radiators to pieces of clothing.
If you had a spaceship, what would you name it?
I name all of my vehicles Gordon. The last Gordon was a van, it burnt down.
I have a new Gordon now.
Good. If spectacular improv isn’t enough for an audience, do you mind starting a scandalous rumour about the TheatreSports building?
Well, I’m pretty sure that at some point in the next week Roman Danylo, from Comedy Inc., will take off his shirt. He’s pretty fit.
That’s almost a guarantee, actually, that’s not scandalous. He’ll do it.
Beyond partial nudity, what’s up next for Vancouver TheatreSports?
We’re currently in rehearsals for the Superhero Show we talked about, and we’re also gearing up for several shows with Colin Mochrie, who’s one of our alumni. He’s got two shows at performance works on October 4th, and two shows here [Vancouver TheatreSports League building] on the 3rd. We’re all sold out. That’s exciting.
I think everyone should improvise. I’ve been doing it for 11 years, and it’s changed my life. I’m a better partner, a better friend, a better family member, and I can’t imagine life without it.
Last question: what’s the least helpful thing anyone has ever said to you?
“Oh, I heard a really funny story that you can use in one of your skits!”
For more on VTSL, or to purchase tickets for a show, click here.