Alumni return to one of the Calgary’s improv stages

Before they were winning Emmys, starring in Saturday Night Live, or animating for DreamWorks, many of our city’s future success stories were honing their skills at the Loose Moose Theatre Company.

With the curtain set to rise on the Moose’s anniversary shows between Sept. 26 and Oct. 6, Calgary’s improv community is gearing up for surprise guests, returning skits and a look at where familiar faces got their start.

 Artistic director Dennis Cahill is one of the founding members of the Loose Moose Theatre Company, and has been looking forward to the return of individuals with whom he once shared the stage.

Loose Moose Theatre Company artistic director Dennis Cahill beside an anniversary poster.

Photo by Justin Wilson

“There are a lot of people coming back for this, that’s what makes it special,” says Cahill. “A lot of the former company members have gone on to do various things, in film, television or theater, and they still feel like this is home.”

Theatre alumni

Theatre alumni include Paul Spence and Dave Lawrence (FUBAR), Mark McKinney and Bruce McCullouch (Kids in the Hall), Norm Hiscock (Writer for Kids in the Hall, Parks and Recreation, and Emmy winner for his work on King of the Hill), Rebecca Northan (Being Erica) and Andrew Pearce, who has played a major hand in the development of computer graphics in film.

Anniversary shows

The Secret Impro Show, set for Thursday, will see a number of performers making the first anniversary appearances. Those announced include Levi MacDougal (Comedy Now), Ryan Belleville (The L.A. Complex) and Albert Howell (This Hour Has 22 Minutes), as well as additional showings by surprise guests.

On Sept. 26 and Oct. 6, audiences will get a chance to catch Theatresports, developed by co-founder Keith Johnstone. Two teams square off in a head-to-head elimination challenge. In this case, it’s current versus returning performers.

“There are a lot of people coming back for this. That’s what makes it special. A lot of the former company members have gone on to do various things, in film, television or theater, and they still feel like this is home.”

– Dennis Cahill

Sept. 28, as well as and Oct. 5, Hot Nuts and Popcorn — a skit structured as a late-night talk show, first developed by comedy duo Derek Flores and Eric Amber — makes its return with musical guests and interviews with theatre alumni. The sketch has been out of regular rotation since they called the Garry Theatre home in the late ’90s.

A Very FUBAR Gorilla Theatre (Sept. 29), The Big Time Variety Show (Oct. 4) and Maestro Impro (Oct. 5), are aimed at filling the theater with big time talent and big time laughs.

Training at the Loose Moose Theatre Company

Roger Kingkade, X92.9 FM morning show host, and alumni, feels not only does the theatre provide great entertainment for the people of Calgary, but great direction for those who move on to other aspects of show business.

“I used to do one two-hour show a week. Now I do five four-hour radio shows a week. The Loose Moose is an outstanding place to receive training,” says Kingkade.

Carol Curties, sessional instructor in the theater, speech and music department at Mount Royal University says of the theatre: “It’s a secret inside our own city that people should get out and see, yet they’re known world wide. They’ve trained a number of great artists and contributed to their artistic development.”

A bit of history

The Loose Moose Theatre Company found its current home at the Crossroads Market in 2005.

Photo by Justin WilsonThe theatre company was formed in 1977 by Keith Johnstone of the University of Calgary, and fellow theatre enthusiast Mel Tonkin. At the time, they asked a number of former students to become performers, one of which was Cahill.

Performing Sunday evenings at the Pumphouse Theatre, the Loose Moose Theatre Company made a name for itself until the theatre closed for renovations in the early ’80s.

The theatre moved to what was then called the Loose Moose Symplex on McKnight Boulevard in 1981, where they remained for 17 years.

From 1998-2003, performances were held in Calgary’s Garry Theatre.

“We did a lot of renovations to it. Put a lot of time, effort, money and volunteer hours into it,” says Cahill.

When the lease was up at the Garry, Cahill says the landlord increased the rent three times what they had been paying, causing Cahill and the rest of the company to, once again, find a new location.

“We really felt like we didn’t want to be bullied or pushed around,” Cahill says. “We thought, ‘Well it’ll be easy to find another space,’ but it wasn’t and we were without a space for three years.”

In 2005, the Loose Moose Theatre Company found its current home at the Crossroads Market in Calgary’s historic Inglewood. Again, Cahill and company renovated the theatre, this time installing the recently removed seating from the Jubilee Auditorium.

Seven years later, Cahill is able to celebrate his 35-year anniversary with the company he helped create and is proud to be able to welcome back those who played their part in making it what it is today.

Its place in Calgary

Kingkade feels that the theatre provides Calgary with great entertainment for a minimal price.

“It’s really good, cheap entertainment, and at the end of the day it’s about telling stories doing an improv show. There are the bigger names we’ve heard of, but there are literally hundreds of performers who have gone on to do amazing things.”

There is a great deal to look forward to between Wednesday and Oct. 6, but when asked what he’s most excited for, Cahill’s answer is simply “seeing old friends.”

For ticket and scheduling info, visit www.loosemoose.com.

jwilson@cjournal.ca