Ben Gorodetsky

Ben Gorodetsky is an improviser, theatre artist and Associate Artistic Director of Rapid Fire Theatre. Ben’s been improvising since 2004 and in that time has performed and taught improv in Austria, Slovenia, NYC, LA, Austin, Detroit, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and the French island of Reunion (near Madagascar!). Along with Todd Houseman, Ben is co-creator of the award winning, multi-cultural improv show Folk Lordz, which fuses the unlikely combination of Cree storytelling, Chekhovian character drama, and spontaneous comedy.

Ben is the recipient of the 2016 Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts award for Emerging Artist of the Year.

Ben holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Alberta, which he most recently put to use in Code Word: Time (Roxy Performance Series/NextFest), Prophecy of the Lost Children (Murmur/Canoe Fest), Dead Centre of Town (Catch the Keys), National Elevator Project (Theatre Yes), and Bitches & Money: 1878 (Northern Light Theatre).

Ben has also been known to, on occasion, write plays of his own. These include Boogie Monster Club (Snowglobe Festival), Magnetmonton (Fringe), 7 Steps to Success (NextFest, with Mat Simpson and Nikki Shaffeullah), and 2 seasons of weekly sketch show Pump Trolley Comedy.

As a curator and producer Ben is the main creative force behind Dirt Buffet Cabaret. Running monthly in co-production with Mile Zero Dance, the Dirt Buffet is a variety show that focuses on short-form performance art and experimental spectacles.

In the realm of scripted direction Ben staged One of Us Must Know by David Walker. This is new, non-realistic, physical-theatre play was directed for the 2016 Expanse festival of Movement Arts.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE:

Website: I hate myself for saying it, but goddamn me, Facebook.
Books: Actual Air by David Berman, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Plays: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee, The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, White Cabin by Theatre Akhe
Food: Simply mangoes are my favourite whole food. My favourite dish is really spicy vegetarian green Thai curry
Place in Edmonton: Down in the river valley near Emily Murphy Park there’s a clay bank that’s separated from the regular river bank and you have to jump over this little bit of backwater to get to it. It’s a gross trough you have to get over, but it’s so beautiful. You see Oliver in front of you, downtown to the right, and you can squish clay between your toes.
Music: Destroyer, Belle and Sebastian and Silver Jews
Film: Happiness by Todd Solondz

HOW DID YOU GET INTO ACTING?

My origin story starts with this amazing, weird and immersive Russian youth theatre studio that I started going to when I was nine years old in Vancouver. My parents had a desire to help keep the Russian language alive and active in my social life. That worked, but the other unforeseen result of that was that I became obsessed with performance theatre. It was kids’ theatre where we put on Christmas plays and fairy stories and crap like that in Russian for the communist immigrant population for Vancouver.

DID THAT EXPERIENCE LEAD YOU TO IMPROV?

Yes. When I got into Grade 9, in Burnaby, there was an improv team. I became enamoured with this fellow named Aaron Read who is now a player in The Sunday Service. He was a couple years older than me and we had these chats about how the world of improv is this magical forest full of endless possibilities. It’s like being on a team with no physical activity. I spent two or three days a week after school stuck in this grammar room with my friends and basically worked my way through high school improv with my team. We did pretty well. We won the BC Provincial gold trophy a few years in a row, and went to Nationals three times and eventually won the gold in 2008.

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO EDMONTON?

There was this perfect storm that brought me here. First, I was born here, so I had some extended family here. But what actually pulled me here was Syd my girlfriend. I convinced her to leave Regina and the education program she was doing to go into theatre and the plan was that I would get into the U of A BFA program and we’d both be at the U of A and it would be a beautiful oasis. But she got in the first year she tried and I didn’t. So, I had not held up my end of the bargain as far as getting my ass out here. We continued on in this long-distance relationship, which was really hard. I visited Edmonton a few times that year and saw some of the amazing work that the U of A theatre department was doing and it intensified how badly I wanted to get into the program. I also saw the insane crowds and energy and avalanche of fun that Rapid Fire is, and that made me want to work harder to get here. Basically hearing about how good Rapid Fire was, wanting to be with my lover brought me here in September 2010.

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH RAPID FIRE?

I met Amy Shostak the summer before I moved because I had been accepted into school and I knew I was moving. I talked to my teacher, guru, Alistair Cook in Vancouver and he said get in touch with Amy, they do good work out there and they would love to have you. I drove out and saw Ganza that summer and hung out with some people and took in the scene then told Amy, “Here’s what up. I’m a cool dude who’s moving here, and you should have me in your company.” She welcomed me.

HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE EDMONTON’S IMPROV SCENE TO VANCOUVER’S?

The consolidation of Edmonton’s improv scene is a pretty wondrous thing. It’s one large company that has the vision and resources to support all these young exciting improvisers. Because there are so many groups in Vancouver everyone has to self-produce shows. It’s common place to have to find a weird dingy studio space that is run illegally in China Town and rent it and promote your show. You have to sweat a bit more, whereas in Edmonton the audience is in place and knows and love us and will support experimentation in ways you don’t necessarily see in Vancouver. Commercial improv will sell anywhere, but the stuff that is supported here by this large institution. The Bonfire Festival is a perfect example of this. It’s not to say that it doesn’t happen in Vancouver. It just happens in front of 20 people in a cafe, not 200 people in a theatre.

YOUR ROLE IN RAPID FIRE HAS EVOLVED. WHAT IS IT LIKE TO GET YOUR FINGERS WET WITH THE RFT STREET TEAM?

The Street Team is an exciting little puppy. This is my first summer here, and because the winter is so long here, it just makes sense to engage people outside when the weather is beautiful and there are a trillion festivals going on. It’s rad to get out there and make a fun spectacle like a water fight, a band, a boys’ bikini bike wash and things that draw the eye and put just a touch of a smirk on a passerby’s face. Just that smirk and extra second they spend looking at you is enough to get in and engage them in conversation. “You think dudes dressed up in bikinis are funny? Just wait until you see our professional improv show. I promise it will be funnier than this.” The internet is great, but there will always be a place to engage on a human to human level, and if it can be wrapped in delicious blanket of funny and weird it’s the best.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR IMPROV STYLE?

My style is to tell a story. Have people connect with characters that are rounded and rich with high stakes with positivity and negativity. It’s easier to do this in long-form improv where you have 45 minutes, which is what I mainly did back in Vancouver. But having moved here and trying to apply that same style to short-form Theatresports has been awesome. It’s been an experiment that means bringing the energy and the funny right away, not unravelling and developing it. You have to lay everything out in the first 15 seconds. From there you can grow into something.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?

I’d like to tour more. Also I’d like to continue with the administrative support side of improv. I’m very much drawn to the organizational and administrative side of improv, because if that shit’s not there then your improv can be the best, but who’s going to see it? What is the value of it if it’s not visible and properly supported and organized? I’m very excited helping organize and grow Rapid Fire as an amazing powerful improv machine.