by Stephanie Malek
Today is the last blog post, as it is also the last show of Toronto, I Love You. Now, I'm hoping you didn't read this title and immediately write-off this blog post as being self-serving on behalf of Bad Dog. Yes, I am writing this blog on the Bad Dog website. Yes, I do a lot of work for Bad Dog. Do you know why I do so much for Bad Dog? Because it is my absolute favourite place in Toronto, and if you will permit, I would like to tell you why.
In 2012, I had just started taking improv classes for the first time. I knew next to nothing about it and was just starting my clap-focuses. I had been going to wheel of improv at Comedy Bar after class and a class-mate had noticed there was a new show called Throne of Games by some company called Bad Dog. My Thursday post may have given you some insight, but I am a huge nerd and I love Game of Thrones so I was very curious.
The night came and we rounded up some class-mates and took our seats. The lights went down and suddenly, from the back of the theatre, a lone male voice (Kris Siddiqi) started singing the theme "bum-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum" and started walking towards the stage with a GIANT sword, followed by the rest of the cast chanting an improvised, lyriced version of the theme song - "Some shit's about to go down in Westeros ...". My whole body was COVERED in goose bumps and for the next 50 minutes I was completely awe-struck. I had no idea improv could be like this.
It was one of the first times I got to see my teachers perform too. Paloma Nunez (in the GLORIOUS blonde wig) was my first improv teacher ever, and it was so neat to see some of the things she taught me being applied on stage! It was also when I developed my first improv crush - Sarah Hillier. Watching Sarah play Arya Stark is still one of my favourite improv performances of all times. I don't even remember what she did specifically, I just remember that every single time she stepped on the stage I became excited because I knew I was going to just lose my shit. I also will never forget Alice Moran doing the most amazing medieval style retelling of Baby Got Back.
As this show was wrapping up (which was DEVASTATING), D&D Live started (which was also SO GREAT) and Bad Dog was about to launch their first Epic Narrative Studio Series class - a class designed to help students learn to tell long stories on stage, like Throne and D&D. If I could do even a tiny bit of what was being done on that stage, I wanted in. So began my time with the Bad Dog Academy.
My first Bad Dog teacher was Rob Norman, teaching us how to do a quest. Then Colin Munch teaching us how to theatricalize (not a word) and enhance our improv. Then Etan Muskat and James Gangl for beatprov. Then Jess Bryson to help us pull it all together. WHAT A FREAKING AMAZING ROSTER OF TEACHERS. To this day, they are all performers I respect so much and love watching on stage as masters of their craft. I was learning from these people then watching them reinforce what they were telling me, night after night.
When I started the program, I was in a very bad personal place and was dealing with a lot of emotional baggage but having something to focus on and care about and be passionate about literally changed my life. I basically moved into Comedy Bar around October/November and never looked back.
Early in 2013 I approached Julie (then Dumais, now Osborne) trying to see how I could help out. I'd been getting so much joy out of Bad Dog and wanted to be more involved. Julie is an amazing supporter of improv, and of anyone wanting to get more involved, She tries so hard to match people up with things they would be passionate about and also be able to help with. I knew nothing about the company and she suggested, based on my love of nerdery, that I hook up with Etan Muskat and Alice Moran (who had produced Throne of Games!) to assist in producing Bad Dog's new Star Trek show, Final Frontier. Now, despite my love of nerdy stuff and coming from a family of Trekkies, I didn't know much about Star Trek but I wasn't going to let that stop me! I met with Etan and Alice over coffee and the show was being born! As we got closer to the date, Alice got an amazing show and was travelling and so was doing a lot of producing remotely, which meant I had to really step up. I WAS SO SCARED OF SCREWING UP, but no one would let me. Julie and Alice and Etan patiently replied to my frantic emails, and helped guide me towards opening night. Right before our first show, I took an afternoon off work to attend the last rehearsal with Etan, Jess, Liz Johnston, Alastair Forbes, and Craig Anderson (I still pinch myself that I got to be involved with this ridiculously talented cast) and someone suggested we have the voice of the ship as part of the show. In a weirdo moment of bravery, I offered and suddenly I went from being behind the scenes producer to also being on-stage. Now, I was still an absolute improv baby. Bless Etan for believing in me enough to let me on the stage, because for the entire first run of the show I spent so much time just trying not to barf or screw up or die.
Also around the time of Final Frontier kicking off, I met this neat improviser while hanging out at Bad Dog/Comedy Bar named Sean Tabares. He had been in the remount of Throne of Games, was in the Bad Dog Repertory Players, and was in the newest season of D&D Live. One night at Baltic Avenue we got to talking after one of his D&D shows about improv and its relation to different D&D classes (NEEERRRRDDDSSSSSS). We kept talking and developed a friendship and eventually decided to start dating each other (that in itself is a funny story and also partly a car2go campaign). He also appeared in an episode of Final Frontier (my best friend first met him while he was wearing a sparkly shirt and nylons on his legs and head). If it weren't for Bad Dog, we probably never would have started talking and wouldn't be living together about two years later!
This is where things kind of become this amazing blur of improv shows and joining the Bad Dog softball team and falling in love and living at Comedy Bar and making all these incredible friends. Final Frontier was a success and we completed our run and I was off to my next project, and then the next project, and next thing I knew I was producing a bunch of shows as well as the Bad Dog Academy Tuesdays, Bad Dog's student night! Bad Dog also started their resident house team for their Micetro show - The Rat Pack. I wanted nothing more than to be part of this group. I longed to be able to step up not just on the back end, but on the stage two. Gavin Williams and Julie decided to give this lil' ol' weirdo a chance and put me in! Now I was performing regularly under the Bad Dog flag!
I felt like I belonged somewhere and I was doing what a year before I didn't even know I wanted to do. The entire community was so open and welcoming and allowed me the amazing pleasure of being taught by them, performing with them, hanging out with them, and becoming one of them! I met some of my closest friends during this time too, including many people I would partner with in future performances! I continued to perform and produce with the company, Final Frontier came back for another run and then in the summer of 2014 the BEST THING HAPPENED. Bad Dog was getting it's own theatre!!!!!!!! Things got INSANE at the theatre and I don't know if you are aware but Bad Dog runs on a part-time/volunteer basis so you can just imagine how stressful it was leading up to the move, though anyone not in the throws of it would never have known! The theatre opened, Launch Week was a HUGE success, and the Bad Dog Comedy Theatre was officially open to the public.
Since then, the company has been trying to get the word out about its new home, and it's working. Shows are selling out, an awesome online campaign helped fund a soon-to-arrive new sign to help people find us, and it really feels like a cozy little home.
Now, look at the two photos above. Everything you see at Bad Dog, everything you read about Bad Dog, every class you have taken and every thing you know about the company as it stands right now is directly because of one, or two, or three, or all of them. I don't say this to downplay the work of previous Artistic Directors and performers and staff, but I say it because I think everyone should know.
I am constantly in awe of the hard work, the passion, the vision, the drive, and the love these incredible women share with the company, the academy, the performers, and the volunteers. I am continually proud to be associated with this company and with these women and the beautiful thing they created and work tirelessly on. They took this little company that didn't have it's own home, this little Academy that started off as 3 foundation classes, this group of incredible performers, and they turned it into a company with it's own theatre, a booming Academy that can boast 5 full adult studio programs, 3 foundational classes, a youth program, a new French program, and ongoing studio presents workshops, a solid group of world-class improvisers, tons of sold out houses, critically acclaimed Fringe shows, and a name that is recognized around the world for it's top-notch unscripted comedy. Julie was even selected as one of the heroes of 2014 for all the incredible work she's done for this community.
The astounding shows put on my this company have raised the bar for me of what improv can and should be. It doesn't need to be all blow lines and audience-winks (though that can be super fun too). It can become this beautiful, intricate, magical art form that can make you laugh and cry and ultimately can have you leaving the theatre feeling changed. That is what Bad Dog does to me (100% honestly - if you were at Toronto, I Love You on Wednesday you could have seen me straight up cry during the show!)
Liz Johnston, Jess Bryson, Lisa Amerongen, and Julie Osborne - thank you for making Bad Dog Theatre Company and Bad Dog Comedy Theatre into this incredible place that is honestly my absolute favourite thing in Toronto.
Thank you so much everyone for reading this blog. I had so much fun writing it and sharing my love of the city with you! Feel free to reach out to me on twitter and lets keep talking about all the awesome things Toronto has to offer! I hope to see you all at the theatre soon! <3