Marcel is a founder of the Bad Dog Theatre Company and recent recipient of the Mary Haynes Award. His contributions to the theatre and the improv community in Toronto are immeasurable. Literally. It would not be possible to count the number of students & aspiring performers whose improv journeys began with or were happily, luckily, gently nudged to a better, more confident place by Marcel. This natural mentoring touch extends effortlessly to the stage with Marcel where he balances a wicked sense of mischief and discovery with a true care & consideration for his scene partners. Marcel is not afraid to let a scene breathe… one of the beautiful qualities that contributes to the refreshingly unfrantic pace of his work with frequent collaborator Kris Siddiqi (see: Egg Zeppelin).
What drew you to improv?
I’m not sure. I had intended to be a stand-up, and moved here from New Brunswick to pursue the big time. I took improv classes as a lark, hoping to find a way to learn to write better stand-up material and I just never left improv. I think the buzz from creating material in the moment and having it connect spontaneously with the audience has something to do with it. I also get the same buzz from failing on stage as well… but somehow, failing in improv isn’t like failing in stand-up.
Let’s say you’re in a scene that’s not going well. Until the lights go down, there’s still every chance that if you dig in, commit, and just stay in the moment and focus on your scene partner, you can pull it out of the shitter together. With stand-up, your material has to be strong and you have to be connected to it and the audience has to connect to it as well… and a stand-up still has to be prepared to stray from their material on some nights.
I think improv is a skill that’s helped me with my acting, with my stand-up and just with being a better person in general, and I’m just happy I found it by accident.
What takes good improv to great?
Commitment. Generosity. Listening. Truth. Honesty. In any order.
Have you ever had a game-changing moment as a performer?
I was once picked up by a scene partner (who was also improv coach at the time) and physically thrown off the stage into a piano. With my ego and my ribs equally bruised, I asked the player afterwards why he did that. His reply: “Because you were fucking around with my shit.”
His explanation later was that I was blocking, gagging and let myself walk into a scene that didn’t need me. I’ve tried hard never to make any other improvisor want to throw me out of a scene since then.
What are your strengths as an improviser?
That’s totally for others to judge about me, to be honest. It’s impossible to accurately gauge what makes me a good improvisor. I think I’ve achieved a level of adequacy by just doing it for so damn long, like a pilot needs to do a certain amount of flight hours to keep from crashing.I definitely know my weaknesses… maybe that’s a strength?
Any advice you’d give someone who’s just starting out in improv?
Just do it. Be fearless. Bring your friends to see shows. AND SEE OTHER PEOPLE’S SHOWS! I’m always so surprised when I ask students “who saw improv last week” and nobody raises their hands. How can you get better at something if you’re not watching others practice the craft? You can’t develop in a vacuum.