Improve your life through improv


Thirty-five years is a long time to keep going without a plan, but the Loose Moose is very good at winging it. Tomko Lamb brings balance and dedication to the Loose Moose Theatre. Photos courtesy:

Back in 1977, Keith Johnstone and Mel Tonken co-founded the Loose Moose Theatre Company right here in Calgary, giving Johnstone’s own Improvisational TheatreSports a home.

Johnstone created theatresports, a form of improvisational theatre that uses a competition model but encourages collaboration, and it changed the world of improv, with many acknowledging him as a father figure for the art.

In the intervening 35 years, The Moose, as it’s fondly known in improv circles, has grown to become a local institution and a breeding ground for some of the world’s top improv talent.

“What Keith has taught, his approach to performing, has changed my life,” said Andrew Phung, senior instructor and performer at Loose Moose. “His idea of it being okay to be failing on stage, of being average, these are ideas that carry us in all styles of art.”

The Moose, both a training ground and a performance venue, may be why Calgary improvisers are considered world class. They are sought after as instructors and performers around the world, according to Mat Mailandt of The Improv Guild.

For its 35th anniversary, The Loose Moose had a homecoming reunion with superstar improvers and actors returning home for the festivities, such as Rebecca Northan and FUBAR’s Dave Lawrence.

Frequent Loose Moose improvisers Levi MacDougall and Andrew Phung commit both to each other and the scene they are performing. Photos courtesy: Calgary being the birthplace of theatresports, a whole community has erupted in support of the genre.

Calgary is home to more than 13 improv groups practicing all sorts of variations of improvisational theatre from the storied long form offered by the troupe Dirty Laundry, to Loose Moose’s original style of theatresports, which lead the charge.

Reading Johnstone’s books on improv are a great way to learn the craft. If you find Improv for Storytellers or any of the books by Johnstone, take Phung’s recommendation and buy it.

“A friend of mine was in LA and called me, they had three, I told him to get them all. It’s rare, it’s like gold.”

Most people who try improv love it, but many are scared to try.

“I meet too many people who say ‘I would like to do it, but I don’t have time, I’m too scared,’” Phung said. “If you want to do anything well, you have to just do it. Go to a theatre, take a class.”

Mount Royal University has its own improv club, Improvination. Ralph Gonzales, information minister for the SAMRU club, said improv has had a huge impact on his life.

“Improv has improved my life exponentially,” Gonzales said. I exude confidence in my everyday activities now. I’ve gained an understanding of social dynamics, conversation skills, and it’s been an avenue to build up self-esteem and be around supportive peers.”

The Moose does around 30 shows a month for audiences of up to 200 people. Tickets and times are available at