While many performing artists have been sidelined by venue closures due to the pandemic, Rapid Fire Theatre's ensemble of improvisers has been consistently active online. They've offered classes and weekly shows since events started getting cancelled, including last year's Bonfire Festival.
"As a company that is all about constant innovation, this is a special time of year where we try on some of our most ambitious ideas and take them to the stage," says Matt Schuurman, Rapid Fire's artistic director.
Bonfire, which runs live online on Fridays and Saturdays from April 9-24, is the company's annual testing ground for experimental improv. The festival has churned out countless oddball and out-there improv formats since it began back in 2012, when it was a resident at the Varscona Theatre. Troupes like Folk Lordz, and returning hits like Magic Marv, Red Shirt Diaries, and Improbotics all got their starts at Bonfires past.
Rapid Fire Theatre's players have been taking their antics online all year round. (Supplied)
"Every year the performers at the festival have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to the group, and that meeting in 2020 was the last time we've been in a room together," says Schuurman. There wasn't enough time to pivot Bonfire 2020 online.
"Now we've had a year under our belts playing with online tools. Finding the fun in that has been really exciting. We've looked at what's going on in the world, how our world has adapted, and what are some things we can spoof?"
Many of the shows at this year's Bonfire lean into society's adaptations to digital life. Highlights include a real-life online blind date in RFT Romance, a city council-style Zoom meeting in Town Hall Time, an immersive true crime and horror audio experience in Improvised Suspense!, and an online dress-up game in Paper Dolls.
"It's been really interesting this past year adapting live performance, and on one hand you can't help but wonder if any of these new tools we've created will continue. Are they just put together to help us weather the pandemic, or are there things that will stick?" ponders Schuurman.
"That's what is exciting about this. And, just like with every Bonfire, maybe some of them will have life afterward. Only time will tell."