High Plains fundraiser: Wild West improv in cahoots with Movember on Thursday night

Devil's Canyon

More new original shows are being brewed at the Montreal Improv Theatre as it grows bigger and better, with formats ranging anywhere from Ted-like talk monologues by experts in their field to inspire scenes (Learn Real Good), to the stage revival of the good ol’ variety show (Regulation Variety Time Slot).

Coming this Thursday, one of Montreal Improv’s alums, Joshua Budman, known for his past productions such as Grumpy Old Men which co-starred Jeff Gandell, returns to the stage with a brand new deck of cards: Devil’s Canyon. It’s a completely improvised play set in the tobacco chewin’, poncho flippin, runnin’ & gunnin’ Old West.

Not only does it provide an excuse to laugh with seasoned improvisers at the top of their form as they sport mustaches (either fake or real), but the audience is also supporting a good cause.

Joshua decided to strategically mount the one-night production in November, thus sharing the month with the Movember Foundation, to which he will donate all of the proceeds from the show. The charity encourages people worldwide to grow & groom their best lip cozy during the month whilst raising funds for it; in turn, the money raised helps fund research into men’s health issues, including prostate and testicular cancer.

In addition, there will be door prizes and a raffle draw to win one of 4 apparel gift bags that include a hoodie sweater, sweat pants, t-shirts, socks and boxers (for both men and ladies).

So this coming Thursday night at the Montreal Improv Theatre, come in from the cold. Trade in the snow for the desert sun. There’ll be gruff voices, squinty back & forth looks, and hopefully a 4-way standoff. We won’t know until then, because it’ll be made up for that night and that night only, and never to be seen again (unless someone records it).

I had the chance to “kick the spittoon around” with Joshua about the good, the bad, and the “beautiful on the inside” way of things in the wild wild west.

Devil’s Canyon… what influences do you draw from? Obviously the poster echoes somewhat The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and the whole spaghetti western feel. Are there any other influences hiding beneath the surface?

On top of the Spaghetti Western feel, I wanted to hone in on the 90s grit style movies like Tombstone, The Quick and the Dead, Young GunsI, and Unforgiven, which the poster is a homage to. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention The Magnificent Seven. It’s going to be a comedy show but it will definitely not be hokey.

Jeff Gandell

Mariana Vial

Joshua Budman

So the show is in November, the same month that the Movember Foundation is raising funds that will go into researching men’s health issues. Why did you want to join the cause?

A few years ago, there was a chance my father could have had prostate cancer. Fortunately, the diagnosis was negative, but the experience still shook up my entire family. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to spreading awareness and raising money for this cause. This is my fifth year campaigning and third time putting on a show.

Seems like the show, paired with the cause, are the perfect excuse to finally grow a mustache (for the clean shaven)…

Yes, that’s true! Nothing would make me more excited to see people in the audiences sporting mustaches. However, it’s not a requirement. I’ve had a big, dirty one on my face all month, and received comments from looking like a young Tom Sellevk to resembling Groucho Marx.

All the gunfights, the mustaches, the prostates… the western seemed on the whole, very testosteroney… For the moustache-less and those who haven’t even seen a western, how to draw them in and to make them feel part of the whole event?

Actually, I cast a female in the lead role. I definitely wanted to include everyone. Yes, the Western genre is testosterone heavy, however, there are movies that capture strong female characters such as The Quick and the Dead and Bad Girls.I wanted to draw from them as well. Also, because it is an improv show, the audience will have a chance to give suggestions at the beginning to add to the story.

Laura Flynn

Vincent Dow

Being in a dense urban center, it seems like there haven’t been any cowboys in Montreal for a long long time (if any)… What made you want to create a western as opposed to any other genre where mustaches are prevalent? (e.g. police detectives, carnies, 70’s adult film scene…)

Yes, there are plenty of other mustache prevalent genres. The last show I put on had a 70’s cop theme. The idea of a western came to mind when I was watching the remake to The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington. As I was viewing the movie, I couldn’t stop looking at Denzel’s very large and prevalent mustache. I knew then and there, the show had to be a Western.

Still on the horse about urbanites playing cowboys: the characters in City Slickers come to mind… Also, improvisers usually go casual. How are you going to get the crowd shaking in their boots at the sight of an outlaw?

The cast will be in costume – cowboy hats, vests, and all – and our tech will have a slew of Western style music to set the mood throughout the show.

Are there any tropes you wish to avoid? E.g. white hats = good / black hats = bad

It’s an improvised show so we don’t really know where it will go, but if I had my way, we’d hit every trope. The trick to performing any improvised genre is to do the obvious so the audience can stay on board.

Can you tell us about about the cast & crew, and how the cast fit into the story?

While organizing the show, I could not believe the support I was getting from the improv community. The venue (Montreal Improv) let me book the show, no questions asked. The cast and tech (Kyle Allatt) are all volunteering their time without expecting anything in return.

The cast (Myself, Jeff Gandell, Mariana Vial, Laura Flynn and Vinny Dow) are all seasoned improvisers with experience in performing narrative improv. We’ve all known each other for several years and work well together.

It’s a completely improvised show, set against a wild west backdrop… Are the actors assigned pre-determined characters and the roles they should fulfill?

The actors playing the hero and the villain have been predetermined. However, their type of character, all supporting characters and main plot will be completely improvised. We know we’re doing a Western… but aside from that, the audience knows as much as we do.

If asking for suggestions that would determine the course the show takes, is there anything the audience could prepare for, to get into the mindset?

We are going to get a few suggestions from the audience to help influence the story. If there is a specific type of story they want to see, maybe something that has never seen before, all they have to do is shout out their word, when asked of course! One thing to keep in mind though, is it still is a comedy show, so we will be avoiding heavy issues.

Who is more appealing to you, the outlaw, the sheriff or his posse?

I would have to say the posse. It shows that people with different backgrounds and desires can still put differences aside to work together for the greater good. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the Magnificent Seven. Town in need asks someone for help. He finds others to join the cause, and they band together to defeat the bad guy!

Is there a story, a legend from the old west (e.g. Billy the Kid, the O.K. Corral) that still sticks with you?

While reading up Western lore for the show, I discovered that Butch Cassidy (from the famed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid duo) had his first run in with the law when he went to purchase a pair of overalls. The store was closed so he let himself in, found a pair that fit, and left a note saying he’d pay them back later. Pretty bad ass and thoughtful at the same time, haha.

Where can the actual cowboys tie up their horses if any come to the show?

I want the audience to be as packed as possible, so please bring them up to enjoy the show!

Devi’s Canyon hits the trail Thursday, November 24 at 7:00 pm at Montreal Improv (3697 Boul St-Laurent). $10. For more info visit the Montreal Improv site

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