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Vancouver's yearning to be considered a "world class city" has come with a price, according to Burnaby electrician Greg Ewan.
"People in Vancouver tend to be a little uptight," says Ewan, 32. "We haven't got the entertainment value of other cities. We need to be more spontaneous."
So he's come up with a plan he hopes will poke our funny bone, turn a few heads, maybe loosen some of the pent-up angst that he thinks may have contributed to last spring's Stanley Cup riot.
Ewan is trying to assemble an improv group that will stage large-scale performances in public spaces, on transit, even in grocery stores. His inspiration is troupes like Improv Everywhere, who've organized performances such as dispatching jumpsuit-clad actors to search for ghosts in New York's Public Library. Or planting 60 cell phones in storage cubbies at a bookstore, then calling them simultaneously and in sequence to create a symphony of annoyance. Or hijacking a hi-tech conference with a shower of rainbow-coloured beach balls, umbrellas and spandex-clad dancers mimicking the dreaded "beach ball of death" that pops up at the most inopportune moments on computer screens, signifying an impending software crash.
The "spontaneous" performances are usually filmed and posted to the Internet, along with detailed accounts of the organization and subterfuge that went into pulling them off. They are as much a triumph of planning and preparation as mirth and mayhem.
"They're more like a public performance than improv," says Ewan. "You want to make people think 'what the heck did I just see?'"
For Ewan, the prospect of planning and pulling off such stunts takes him back to his youth, when he was involved with his high school's theatre productions. The drama teacher favoured heavy, serious plays, so every once in a while the students would bust loose with their own wacky interpretations or reenact beloved Monty Python skits.
So far Ewan's solicitations on Craigslist have generated some interest, mostly from performers looking to do traditional improv. He's hoping once word spreads, he'll start hearing from members of the local theatre community looking to broaden their skills. But mostly he hopes to entice anyone who's "a little fearless, a little crazy, and very innovative with a good sense of humour."
He says once he has a troupe recruited, they'll probably start small, like dispatching a group that begins to laugh spontaneously on a SkyTrain car.
"Even a small audience is enough to keep something going," says Ewan. "When you catch people unaware, the more you do it, the more people will talk about it."
His project couldn't come at a better time. With the Canucks about to embark on another playoff run, the anxiety and navel-gazing over last year's riot are tightening civic sphincters yet again. Two months out, and already officials are issuing warnings about their lack of tolerance for bad behaviour, announcing plans to nip any potential trouble in the bud by dispatching public celebrations into community centres all around Metro Vancouver.
"We need a little more bizarre in our lives," says Ewan. "We have to have avenues to let people be a little bit crazy."
To contact Ewan about his improv plans, go to http://castironclown.wordpress.com/