Nearly a year later, Tyler Butler still hasn’t gotten the song out of his head.
It was December 2019, and the senior manager of story for ATB Financial had brought in Rapid Fire Theatre to create a series of improvised carols for their customers over social media. The Holiday Sing-a-ma-jig turned into a daylong celebration of goofiness and festive cheer, and one song in particular, dedicated to someone’s grandma, wormed its way into Butler’s ear, perhaps permanently. “All I do is Lynn, Lynn, Lynn / no matter what,” he recites. “I’ve been singing that for nine months now.”
The Sing-a-ma-jig is just one part of an ongoing collaboration between Rapid Fire and ATB—and if it sounds strange that a financial institution would partner with a bunch of improvisers, well, ATB isn’t your typical bank. Founded by the provincial government during the height of the Great Depression, their mission from the beginning has been to improve the lives of Albertans; more recently, they’ve explicitly added happiness as one of their corporate objectives.
Or, as Adam Rozenhart, ATB’s director of story, puts it: “Yeah, we give people checking accounts. But we’re also here to uplift Albertans and enrich their lives.”
That mission became more complicated—and more urgent—as the COVID-19 pandemic put the entire province back on its heels. Butler felt that ATB had a role to play, not just as a financial institution, but also a social one. So, as Father’s Day approached, he once again enlisted Rapid Fire to help bring families together, at a time when social distancing was rapidly becoming a household term. The result? A contest to see who could submit the worst/best dad joke, as judged by a panel that included several members of Rapid Fire, as well as ATB CEO Curtis Stange and Andrew Phung, one of the stars of CBC’s hit sitcom Kim’s Convenience.
The judges were unanimous in selecting the winning entry, which was submitted by Amanda Hennawi: “Did you hear about the explosion at the cheese factory? There was nothing left but debris.”
At a time when many Albertans were wondering if they could even be in the same building as their parents, Butler says that the event provided a much-needed release for everyone involved. “Being able to face [the pandemic] with something that was fun and silly and effervescent is a powerful thing,” he says.
Overall, the partnership between Rapid Fire and ATB has been a catalyst for both parties, leading to hilarious events that are also a clear boon to the community at large. “On the surface you have this group of wacky people,” Rozenhart says of Rapid Fire, “but these folks take their work very seriously, and they want to create an outstanding product.”
That love runs both ways. “ATB’s corporate culture is such that they’re really open to new ideas,” says Julian Faid, Rapid Fire’s events director. Faid, who you can spot in some of the Sing-a-ma-jig videos waving a construction-paper Christmas tree, notes that one of the bank’s taglines is listen—which just so happens to also be a core component of improv. “To my mind, it’s a match made in heaven.”
Written by Michael Hingston, an Edmonton-based writer and book publisher
September 24, 2020