SURREY — It’s no joke that when Vancouver TheatreSports League does a show on its home turf at The Improv Centre on Granville Island, audiences frequently yell out “Surrey!” when performers ask for a place of ill repute.
Yes, that happens.
So when those same TheatreSport-ers come to Surrey to perform, what happens then?
“We’ll have to see about that,” Jay Ono, the comedy company’s executive director, told the Now with a laugh.
“It’ll be interesting to hear what they’ll yell out – probably Vancouver, I don’t know. Maybe that’s who (Surrey audiences) dump on.”
The test will come on Friday, Nov. 4, when the VTSL crew hits Surrey’s Centre Stage with its “Improv With a Twist” show.
CLICK HERE for show tickets.
Ono sees the company’s dates at the city hall theatre – on Nov. 4 and also on March 31 next year – as a bit of a trial run in Surrey for its unscripted type of comedy.
“It’s something new for us out there, in partnership with the City of Surrey, one that we’d love to nurture,” said Ono (PICTURED).
“One of the goals we’re looking at right now is perhaps establishing a second venue, and Surrey, at this point, seems to be a natural place for that,” he revealed. “Our goal is five years, so depending on a feasibility study we’re doing, you know, we’re hoping to tap into more audiences like Surrey and Langley.”
Audiences who live on this side of the Fraser River seem less enthused about driving over several bridges to see a TheatreSports show in Vancouver, he added.
“We used to get quite a few people from the area (coming to Vancouver for shows), but I think once the drinking-and-driving laws came around, and they were policing it more, people didn’t want to drive, and people are really into convenience, too,” he said.
“Which leads us out to Surrey, which is a great place with a such a great young, vibrant population,” Ono raved. “With us, improv is a great way to attract people who wouldn’t go see a play or, you know, a poetry reading or something. I think improv is a nice gateway to kind of get into the arts and appreciate them and watch them.”
Back in his high school days, Ono saw a VTSL show and was hooked enough to start taking improv classes. He joined the cast in 1983 and worked his way up to management, becoming the company’s executive director in 1994.
Also around that time, Ono has great memories of performing with one of the kings of comedy, Robin Williams, while the star was in Vancouver shooting the movie “Jumanji.”
“He called the club to say he was looking for a place to work out and that he heard of the in-house improv/sketch group, The No Name Players. He told the box office person (at Punchlines, the old comedy club in Gastown) he might drop by to check it out,” Ono recalled.
“I was playing pool in the front lobby with a fellow performer. I look up and Robin Williams was standing right there.”
Williams ended up doing six shows with the Players, and Ono was in four of them.
“He was humble and gracious,” he remembered. “Punchlines could never advertise the shows because it was always a maybe because of his shoot schedule. When he was there, we would always do one scene without him, and then for the second scene he would join the scene, unannounced, and the crowd would go nuts – a standing ovation and applause for two to four minutes. Once the ovation ended, we would continue with the scene.”
The cast for next week’s TheatreSports show in Surrey isn’t yet confirmed, but Ono said the audience should expect – as usual – a string of improv scenes highly influenced by suggestions from the crowd.
“It’s the most accessible (of VTSL shows) because you can really make a lot of changes on fly depending on how the audience reacts,” One explained. “A lot of it is current events sometimes, because it’s top-of-mind what the audiences yell out and they’re normally pretty good at knowing what’s hot in there in pop culture and what’s in the news.”
Worst of all is a “lame” crowd, he said.
“You don’t want a TV crowd that sits back and tries to take a glance at their Facebook messages or something, they need to be engaged,” Ono said. “Most people are (engaged), and I think we’re pretty fortunate with the energy of the work that we do, it’s engaging and people appreciate it. I think audiences should understand that, to me, it’s like a tennis game, and there’s some back-and-forth energy needed. Our performers are professional improvisers and they need to deliver regardless, but it’s certainly a lot easier when the crowd’s behind you. If the audience is buying in and the first few suggestions from the audience are thoughtful and not the things we get all the time, that’s a good start.”
Show time on Nov. 4 is 8 p.m. For tickets and more info, visit Tickets.surrey.ca or call the box office, 604-501-5566.