Canadian Improv Games

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The Canadian Improv Games (CIG) is an education based format of improvisational theatre for Canadian high schools. To participate in the games, high school students form teams of up to 8 players and are required to pay a registration fee (if their school is not able to cover the cost). The teams compete in regional tournaments, organized and coordinated by regional Canadian Improv Games volunteers. Players perform improvised scenes, fuelled by suggestions provided by the audience. Each scene is judged based on a fixed rubric. The winning team from each region proceeds to the National Festival and Tournament held in Ottawa. The National Arts Centre is a major sponsor of the Canadian Improv Games. The National Arts Centre is the site of the National Festival and Ottawa Tournament. The Games were created by Jamie "Willie" Wyllie[1] and Howard Jerome, based on a concept originally conceived by David Shepherd and Howard Jerome. David Shepherd was the producer of North America's first professional improvisational theater The Compass Players in Chicago, which, was the forerunner of the Second City.


The teams consist of no more than eight performing members. Teams are given the option of maintaining 2 alternate players; it is recommended that teams have no less than five players.

There are 5 events in the Canadian Improv Games, including: Life, Character, Style, Story and Theme. Teams must perform 4 of these 5 events, including mandatory Theme and Life scenes. During a night of play, the players will provide the audience with an ask-for. An ask-for is used to specify the type of suggestion the team requires to fuel their scene. An ask-for can be a variety of things, ranging from, the title of a song, a non-geographical location, or simply an adjective. Scenes may last up to 4 minutes, and a whistle will be blown when the allotted time is up. The team is not penalized for the having the whistle blown, it simply means the end of the scene. However, they are not required to use the entire 4 minutes. Before performing a scene, the players may 'huddle' for up to 15 seconds to prepare and briefly discuss the upcoming scene. This also allows the opportunity for players to discuss the suggestion. Time calls from linespersons change and vary depending on location but one minute and thirty second time calls have been implemented in the 2008 season.

Judges are Canadian Improv Games volunteers, often accredited with theatre and improv experience. They are responsible for watching and rating each scene in a given round. Each judge can judge a scene out of a possible 59 points. Judges look for both technical and entertainment based factors. A fixed rubric outlines specific requirements of a scene. Such factors include the acceptance of offers, level of risk, use of staging, skill of the event, level of interest, and use of suggestion. Most scenes incorporate the "five elements" which include, location, relationship and characters, conflict, raising of the stakes, and a resolution.

Show Format[edit]

Each performance is divided into four rounds. The show starts with the introduction of the officials (one referee, one timekeeper, and usually, but not always, one linesman), who explain the basics of the show to the audience. The teams are then introduced, and the first round of play begins. In a single round, each team performs one scene; the order of teams and events are unknown to all but the officials before play begins. At the end of the second round, there is an intermission; after the third and fourth rounds, the scores are announced, and the show is over. Generally, five teams will perform in a single night of play, though this changes according to region and season phase.

Season Format[edit]

The format of the season varies from region to region. Most start with an exhibition round, which is a scoreless night of play, intended to familiarize teams with the format of the competition and the expectations of the adjudicators. After this, the elimination rounds begin: the sum of each team's score on each of their four scenes is their score for that phase, and the teams with the highest scores graduate to the next phase. Before starting the regional final round, which takes place in a single show, many regions stage a "wildcard" round, in which the fifth to ninth highest-scoring teams compete for the fifth spot in Finals. Each region has a predetermined number of spots at the National Tournament in Ottawa (generally one from the smaller regions); the highest-scoring team(s) in the finals are the ones who fill these spots and represent their region.

At the National Tournament, there are a total of twenty competing teams. Each team performs once in an elimination round that lasts four nights; on the fifth and final night, the five highest-scoring teams compete for the top place in the country.


The winners of each region go to Ottawa for the National Tournament which is often held in February.

Also note that, in 2009, instead of sending one team from the region of Northern Alberta and one team from the region of Southern Alberta to Nationals, all Albertan teams will compete in a single tournament in Edmonton. The top TWO teams of this tournament—regardless of where in Alberta they are from—will advance to Nationals.

In 2011 the number of teams advancing from the Alberta tournament was changed to one and the Online tournament which had occurred in previous years was brought back. One team is chosen from the teams who enter the online tournament from across Canada.


If a team is provided a suggestion that they do not understand they are allowed to request a definition, which is supplied by either a judge or referee. If a team has used the given suggestion previously, they are given the opportunity to request an alternative.


In the Life event the team must present an improvised scene "honestly and sincerely." This may include "moments" in people's lives or merely a realistic representation of an unrealistic situation. Events in a life scene must be dealt with truthfully. The premise of a scene can range from a first date or family trauma to the car not starting. The life event is not intended for broad laughter. Entertainment and humorous moments are generated from the reality of a situation or sincerity of an interaction. A common ask for in this event is "a crisis in a teenager's life." Dated versions of the Life Event stipulated "a pivotal moment in a teenager's life," as an obligatory ask-for.


In the Story event, a team must perform "an original story in an improvised setting, including an aspect of narration." Forms of narration vary. Each improvised story must contain a beginning, middle, and end, not necessarily in that order. This is another event where the team will ask the audience for a suggestion or inspiration before they begin. It is of utmost importance that these three sections are obvious to the audience, because it is those elements that define the scene as a story.


The Character event does not have to be a scene but it usually ends up being one, as the main purpose for this event is to show how well the team can develop and use a character that they create usually based on audience suggestion. It is usually best when a character trait is blown out of proportion or if the character is placed in a situation that would make them stand out. Anyone on the team can use a trait given by the audience, sometimes creating two characters on the same trait, or one on the original trait, and another on its antithesis. The team will usually ask for a character trait to use in their about-to-be-developed character(s) before they begin and some teams will even ask for other suggestions as well that they can use for inspiration, although teams may also ask for something like a location from which to derive their characteristic(s)- i.e. a haunted house would be 'creepy'. Players should be careful, however that the Character Event does not become the "Character Trait" event. The purpose of this event is not to show forty-seven ways to be greedy. The purpose is to create a character; a character trait is only a small (but still prominent) part of that character. The improviser should have an idea of what that character is like in all facets; not just a trait, but for example, what kind of friends that character has, what activities the character might enjoy, even a small sampling of some past experiences that character might have had. The character must be fully formed and plausible. (Can be wacky, and over the top, but they cannot be downright impossible to believe). A good Character scene is when other members are continuously endowing the character and giving him/her chances to show off the character trait.


In the Theme event, the teams are "given a theme which they must explore in one or more scenes." Theme is quite unique and different from the other games as unlike the other events where the inspiration and suggestion comes from the audience, theme suggestions can come in various ways and is usually given to the team by the host. However, if the team wishes, they are allowed to ask for another suggestion from the audience. For example, this could be a location in which to explore the theme in. Suggestions could be fortune cookie sayings, haiku or just a single word. Once given their theme suggestion teams must explore that theme in as many ways as possible. This may be done as one scene or as a series of vignettes (the overwhelmingly most popular approach, also known as the Harold style). The connection to the theme may be literal or figurative.


Style showcases the team's ability to portray a certain genre of media, usually from film, theater or television. Mime, cheesy horror film, sports presenter, Disney musicals, Shakespeare and infomercial are examples of different styles that have been seen in performances. Teams may put a lot of research into the style. They are not meant to parody a genre but actually produce an example of that genre. it is important that the style be original and unique.


A handle (suggestion) is taken from the audience, as chosen by a referee. Suggestions may include occupations, relationships, non-geographical locations or objects. This event consists of one scene, from beginning to end, without narration. It is very similar to Story. This style is not performed during Nationals however it is often seen at practice competitions such as Moncton's November tournament.



Before every show begins, everyone must rise and place their right hand over their heart, and their left hand on a "G-rated body part" of someone next to them. A referee will begin reciting the Oath as the audience and players repeat it:

We have come together
In the spirit of loving competition,
To celebrate the Canadian Improv Games.
We promise to uphold the ideals of improvisation,
To co-operate with one another,
To learn from each other,
To commit ourselves to the moment,
And above all…
To Have A Good Time!


Teams generally meet up about an hour before the show to warm-up altogether with the referees. The overall purpose of the games is to be a "loving competition", so a joint warm-up helps with this feeling of camaraderie.

"What's. In. The box?"[edit]

French: C'est quoi dans la boite? Je ne sais pas!; Russian: Что в коробке?

"What's in the box" is a popular Improv fundraiser in which the hosts gather a variety of prizes, put them in a box, and sell off raffle tickets for various prices. Halfway through the show the officials will give a hint distantly related to the contents of the box when time comes the official will explain the clue usually in a run on sentence. As prizes are given out the teams are encouraged to say there are more as the official prompts by saying "But wait..." prior to pulling out another object. The many mystery prizes within the box will be revealed and usually tied to a theme by the presenters as drawn out of the box. These prizes are often "silly" prizes such as odd books and bars of soap as well as Canadian Improv Games merchandise. Often a "real" prize will also be offered for selection (such as chocolates, CDs and gift cards), in which case two raffle winners are selected and often have to participate in a small competition to see who gets to choose their prize first.


  1. ^ "Improv Games co-founder Willie Wyllie a champion for teens". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 

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