Rapid Fire Theatre wants to bring out your kid's inner improv artist
By Cory Schachtel | January 10, 2024
A good improviser is uninhibited, imaginative and good at playing around. If that also sounds like a typical child to you, Rapid Fire Theatre’s Director of Outreach and Welcome Joleen Ballendine emphatically agrees.
“They’re the best improvisers! They don’t judge themselves, they trust their impulses, and they’re hilarious and charming,” says Ballendine, who worked with a wealth of youthful talent while teaching kids’ improv classes at the Citadel as Rapid Fire’s new home was built over the last few years — and created Kidding Around, a child-based improv show, when the company settled into its new space.
That was last spring, when the 40-year-old company started a 40-year lease in the old telephone museum, and making the new theatre accessible — in all kinds of ways — was a big priority of the redesign.
“I’ve had the benefit of working with some folks with disabilities, and they expressed how few theatres in Edmonton are truly accessible — not just to watch the shows, but to participate in the shows or even perform, and to do it all with dignity,” she explains.
For Kidding Around shows — which Ballendine points out align nicely with the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market’s free parking on Saturday afternoons — the lights are half-dimmed in case anyone needs to leave. There’s a quiet room in the lobby, and matted, side-stage theatre space for stage-shy kids, where they can draw and play with toys. Kids can participate from their seats, but most end up following their imaginative instincts into the spotlights. The only people who might enjoy the shows more are the pros who lead the scenes — and feel rejuvenated by the time the costumed kids take their tiny bows.
“It’s so fun for the performers,” Ballendine says. “And these are some of our best performers who are touring and doing corporate gigs. But then they get to recharge their batteries at these shows, and go back in time to when it was so exciting and fresh and new. Sometimes as a performer, you get in a rut, doing the same things over and over. But at these shows, I’ve been tapping into that kid brain, and that kid logic, again.”
When we talk about activities for kids, improv theatre doesn’t come first to mind the way soccer and swimming lessons do, Ballendine says. But she’s seen so many lit-up little faces — followed by surprised, “who knew?” parental expressions — that she hopes everyone lets their kids experience it once, just to see for themselves.
“We had a Halloween show, where no one dressed up. And then this enormous family comes in, like 10-plus kids and their parents, and they’re all dressed up. We were gonna do a Sleeping Beauty scene, so we needed a princess. Usually, everyone raises their hand and we find someone, but this girl [from the big family] was already dressed as a princess, and she just bolted to centre stage like, ‘I’m ready for my close up.’ Her family was just howling. And then after the show, the family came up and said they’ve never seen her act like that at all, but she had been coming to the shows, and she was waiting for that moment. It was the last scene of the show, and she crushed it.”