In celebration of our 40th anniversary, we conducted a research project into our own history.
This research resulted in us writing our book, We Made It All Up!
In 1981, Keith Johnstone’s unique form of improvisation, Theatresports, was brought to Edmonton by Theatre Network and its Artistic Director, Stephen Heatley. The Edmonton Theatresports League/Edmonton Improv League was born and by 1988, with the help of Stephen Heatley, the company of talented improvisers and performers formed a new theatre company, Rapid Fire Theatre, to independently present TheatreSports to Edmonton audiences. Its mandate at the time was to continue Edmonton’s Theatresports, but with an eye to expand into other future productions, both improvisational and mainstream. Artistic Director Jack Smith led the company through this transition period with Theatresports being performed first at the Phoenix Theatre in downtown Edmonton, and then finding its home in the Chinook Theatre in the Spring of 1990, which became the Varscona Theatre in 1994.
In 1991 the Artistic Directorship changed hands to Patti Stiles. Patti has an international reputation for her improvisation skills and teaching abilities. Trained by Keith Johnstone at the Loose Moose and former Artistic Director of a improvisation company in Toronto, Patti led the company into a new area of performing not only Theatresports but launching into using improvisation techniques for development in sketch, and script. Patti resigned in 1995 and Jacob Banigan stepped in to take the reins.
Under Jacob’s leadership Rapid Fire went further in its exploration of improvisational work, creation of new plays, international outreach, and launched The Nosebowl and CHiMPROV. Jacob left in 2004 and Artistic Director Chris Craddock stepped in. His objectives were to increase our popularity through CHiMPROV, to increase awareness of our company, and to employ more actors. In 2008 Chris left to stage an off-Broadway show in New York, and Artistic Director Kevin Gillese took up the reigns. Kevin’s focus was on star talent and video production. Kevin moved on to become Artistic Director Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia in January 2010. Amy Shostak took over the Artistic Director role in 2010, and focused on performer development and collaboration. In September 2012, Rapid Fire Theatre left The Varscona Theatre in order to expand our programming at our new home at The Citadel Theatre. Amy Shostak left Edmonton for Vancouver in 2015 and Matt Schuurman was hired as Artistic Director. Matt’s focus has been on expansion and growth, adding more weekly programming and growing the performing ensemble.
Theatresports, Rapid Fire’s flagship, was devised in Calgary, Alberta by Keith Johnstone and the Loose Moose Theatre Company. It quickly grew into an international phenomena and still played all over the world. Rapid Fire Theatre is a registered member of the International Theatresports Institute.
Rapid Fire Theatre expanded into the world of semi-scripted performances, sketch comedy, theatre for young audiences and full length plays. Rapid Fire Theatre was commissioned by the Alberta Museum to write, and perform a new Theatre For Young Audience production based on their Whale exhibit. The result was a play entitled When Whales Tell Tales which was nominated for an Elizabeth Sterling Haines Award.
Two other successful new Theatre For Young Audiences works were conceived produced and performed through Rapid Fire. Johnny Drops Out, a rock musical for High Schools took an honest look at the options presented to high school students about school and dropping out. Commissioned by the Alberta Government, this production took home the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes award for Outstanding Production for Theatre For Young Audiences. Johnny was followed up by a production for Elementary schools called Lily Skips School.
Rapid Fire moved into adult plays first in 1993 with the half scripted half improvised Fringe hit Suspect: a game of Murder. Then in 1995 producing Marty Chan’s There Is Something Dead and Evil In The Cemetery and I think It’s My Dad, followed by the 1999 hit On Being A Peon, which earned two Sterling nominations and one award for best collaborative effort. And in 2000, The Critic, another Christopher Craddock work, featured a number of Theatresports and touring veterans. In 2008, Kiss My Bus!, a collaborative work by Kirsten Rasmussen, Clarice Eckford and Amy Shostak, premiered at the Edmonton Fringe. And in 2009, A Watched Pot Never Boyles, a semi-improvised comedy, by Amy Shostak and Arlen Konopaki was a fringe hit!
On the international scene, RFT is renowned as champion of improvisational comedy, having visited and won titles in Canada, the U.S. and overseas. For decades, Rapid Fire has produced the largest improv comedy festival in Canada, Improvaganza. This has grown into a 10-day, two-venue event with more than 40 performers and thousands of fans.
In 1993 Rapid Fire Theatre banded together with Teatro La Quindicina and Shadow Theatre to save the Varscona theatre from being lost as a theatre venue. We knew the Varscona theatre could and would be a vital performance space in the Edmonton Theatre scene.
Rapid Fire Theatre has received several awards, including a special Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award for excellence in theatre. Rapid Fire Theatre is a company with vision, determination, skill and ambition tirelessly working to enhance the work of improvisation and Edmonton’s vibrant theatre community.
Rapid Fire Theatre grew exponentially in the Varscona Theatre, and by 2011 our audiences and programming had exceeded the capacity of the venue. In September 2012, Rapid Fire Theatre moved to a dedicated space at The Citadel Theatre and consolidated all programming (weekly shows, workshops, festivals and special engagements) there. They also launched an extensive Capital Campaign in 2012 to raise funds to run their own theatre one day.