Stage Door News

Stratford: Rebecca Northan hosts the inaugural Stratford Winter Improv Festival/Tournament

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Thanks to the efforts of a new Stratford resident, the world of professional improv is about to hit the city in a big way.

Having moved to Stratford from Toronto in August, Canadian Comedy Award winner, Second City alumna, and creator of the improvised stage show, Blind Date, Rebecca Northan is using her considerable talents and connections in the world of improvisational performance to host what she hopes will be the first annual Stratford Winter Improv Festival/Tournament, or SWIF/T.

“I know there’s a bit of an improv scene here, in Kitchener and London because when I moved here, suddenly people were reaching out, ‘I heard you moved to town. Will you teach a workshop?’” Northan said. “So I thought, ‘Well, it’s my first winter here, I know it’s really quiet here in the winter, I’ll just see if there’s any interest.’”

So Northan put out call for a maximum of 15 people who were willing to participate in a five-day training course, culminating in two public performances on Feb. 1 and 2. Within three weeks the course was sold out.

“It’s a really cool mix of local improv people from Stratford, Kitchener, London, and the area, and then professional actors from in town and The Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake,” Northan said, noting that traditional theatrical performers often make an effort to learn improv, as many of the skills she teaches are directly transferable to the stage.

Throughout the five-day training portion of SWIF/T, Northan and her fellow improv instructor Joe Bill, a founding member of Chicago Annoyance Theatre, will teach their students about crafting a narrative onstage, the psychology of acting in the moment, and how to handle the natural fear that comes with acting unscripted in front of an audience, among many other useful skills.

By the end of the course, ready or not, all 15 participants will compete against one another in what is known as Maestro Improv — a competition style of improv developed in her hometown of Calgary — at the Queen’s Inn starting at 8 p.m. on Feb. 2.

“Maestro is this really great form where you start with 15 improvisers, the audience gets to score their scenes, and as the rounds go on you start to eliminate the lower-scoring players,” Northan explained. “It’s kind of like improv Survivor.”

And prior to that performance, on Feb. 1, also at the Queen’s Inn starting at 8 p.m., Northan and Bill themselves will perform in a show they’ve dubbed Totally Naked, during which no topic will be off limits for the performers. While they won’t actually be naked at any point in the show, Northan promises it will have audience members laughing until their eyes water.

Admission for both shows is $10 at the door, and there will be a cash bar available.

By Galen Simmons for

Photo: Rebecca Northan. © 2019 Galen Simmons.