When Colleen Wheeler was asked to describe her relationship with her theatre school instructor Keith Johnstone during a performance of The Life Game, she painted a picture of a touchstone, a mentor.
But when she was asked to play Johnstone in a scene with the ensemble of improv artists, she depicted him as a man making moves on her.
The Life Game involves a new guest each performance who is interviewed on stage while a director sets up scenes with performers including Brian Anderson, Jeff Gladstone, Ryan Gladstone, Tom Jones, David Milchard, Lori Triolo, Christina Sicoli, Tallulah Winkelman and Riel Hahn. Sometimes the interviewee is asked to play someone in their life.
The beauty of The Life Game, says Hahn, is that this kind of improv dodges comedic exaggerations in favour of revealing truths that flow from an individual's intimate experiences.
"There's a certain part in your career as a storyteller, you realize why it's important to tell your stories and to tell honest stories is because not everybody can," she said. "But everybody needs to hear them because humans want to know they're not alone in the world."
Hahn, who performed in last month's edition of The Life Game Vancouver, had previously been the subject when she ended up reliving tender memories of her late father Phil Savath, with whom she'd fought a lot.
"It was a gift to be able to go back and just open up some of those gentle and sweet memories of long before he was ill," Hahn said.
Actor Jeff Gladstone trained in improv and mask at Calgary's Loose Moose Theatre under Keith Johnstone, a father of improv and the creator of TheatreSports. Gladstone brought Johnstone to Vancouver in 2004 to teach workshops and asked him to teach him how The Life Game worked. In 2006, Gladstone founded Vancouver's Here Be Monsters Festival of theatre, art and creation. Here Be Monsters produced a series of workshops with Johnstone, which have led to the monthly production of The Life Game Vancouver and the ensemble Truth Be Told Theatre, of which Gladstone is co-artistic director with actress Veena Sood.
The next edition of The Life Game Vancouver will be held March 25 in honour of World Theatre Day. The guest, who has yet to be confirmed, will be selected from those who responded to the question "What did you survive?" via a contest held on social media.
During the show, guests are asked such things as, What would be written on your gravestone? Who bullied you? Who was your first love?
These queries not only prompt the sharing of personal stories, but they get each audience member thinking about how they would respond.
"It's a very special kind of improv," said Hahn. "[Audience members] don't want to leave after and they don't want to leave alone. They want to go out somewhere and talk about their lives together and that is a remarkable impact that it has on people."
The Life Game Vancouver is held the last Sunday of each month until June, at 8 p.m. at Studio 1398, 1398 Cartwright St. on Granville Island. In honour of World Theatre Day, March 27, audience members are invited to attend an open rehearsal, March 25, 7 p.m. and a reception after the show. For more information, see thelifegamevancouver.com.
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