Meet The Kinkonauts (Your New Funny Friends)
It dubs itself as Calgary’s improv laboratory. Here are a few other vital facts you should know about the comedy group, including the fact that they are presenting an improvised musical this weekend.
Consider yourself lucky to live in Calgary where improv is abundant. There is almost always an opportunity to find some small group of people onstage skillfully making up stories as they go along (see: Loose Moose Theatre and Dirty Laundry). All of the improv groups co-mingle and cross-pollinate, as you do when you are a tight-knit community. The Kinkonauts are one of the larger Calgary improv groups. It performs, teaches and encourages those collaborations.
This week is one of its show weeks, with plenty of events to attend including Apt 33 with Louie Pearlman (a multimedia musical kids show for adults), The Improvised Musical (more on that coming up) and Mixtape (Heather Falk and Ryan Sheedy pull together a show based on a mixtape).
If you haven’t heard of The Kinkonauts, consider this your introduction.
When it all began
The Kinkonauts started 8 years ago.
Who they are
There are 40 performers from the young (20s, 30s) to the less young (40s, 50s). Within the huge troupe the improvisers break off into smaller factions to work on characters or skits.
If when you think improv, you think Whose Line is it Anyway, you are only partly correct. That style of improv is about games. The Kinkonauts, however, mostly create long form improv. It’s a style that began in Chicago and includes a series of scenes that, gathered together, could last 15 to 30 minutes or longer. The scenes are connected by a character or plot device and by the end of the show are usually all neatly tied together. How that will happen is unknown to the performers when they start and is usually helped along by the audience (who conveniently jump to conclusions).
“We have an underground, quirky, community vibe,” says Kinkonauts co-founder Jason Lewis. And he means literally under ground. The Kinkonauts’ venue is the Birds & Stone Theatre in the basement of the Unitarian Church. It holds about 50 audience members.
Inspirations and experiments
The Kinkonauts like to bring in guests to mix things up. Last year they collaborated with Paper Street Theatre to do a John Hughes-inspired show. They’ve done film noir and Shakespeare. And, lest you think they are just inspired by things that have a talking voice, they have also improvised using artwork from Alberta College of Art + Design students.
Performing in blocks of time
The Kinkonauts’ “season” is really several one week blocks during which they present a series of shows and events. Think of each show week as a mini improv festival. The current show week goes until February 8. Look for upcoming weeks at the beginning of March, April and May.
The obsession with music
Most of The Kinkonauts shows have a strong musical element. It isn’t by accident. “People who write stories know that at the heart of every story is emotion,” says Lewis. “Music immediately brings out emotion.” In other words they are using performing mind tricks to hook us right away and it is working.
Which brings us to The Improvised Musical
On February 6 and 7, The Kinkonauts go where they haven’t before and present an entirely improvised musical. The show will last about 40 minutes. They know nothing about what will happen except for the opening song and that there will be a good guy and a bad guy. They also know that musician Leif Ingebrigtsen is coming all the way from Edmonton to improvise the score live.
Of the seven performers who will be in the musical, five are trained, two are just enthusiastic and all of them have been rehearsing.
How to rehearse for a musical when you don’t know the songs
The group has been studying classic song structures and learning how songs actually work. They’ll be making up the music as they go, so it will be helpful to know generally know where to join a chorus or add a verse. They expect to be bursting into song approximately every five to 10 minutes during the show.
Why you should invite The Kinkonauts to your office
When they aren’t onstage for show week, the group also offers corporate training. It makes perfect sense. “What we do onstage is create meaningful, high stakes interactions,” says Lewis. “Leadership, advising, managing is about that too. It uses the same principals.”
The Kinkonauts can turn you into a famous actor
The famous actor part isn’t guaranteed, but pretty much every actor out there has some improv training. At the very least, when you take a Kinkonauts improv class you’ll meet new people. There are classes for the complete newbie as well as those with a bit more experience wanting to hone their hilarity. The Kinkonauts even have an entire student performers division called STU (clever, right?).
Start by learning the number one rule of improv
“Whatever happens onstage, always say yes,” says Lewis. “Then add something new.” Watch how it is done this weekend at The Improvised Musical.
For more information about The Kinkonauts or to buy tickets to their show, visit kinkonauts.com