Showcasing Asian heritage in improv

Nathania Bernabe is a master of stage combat. She directs the cast in punching each other without getting hurt, which is a lot harder than you’d think. | Photo courtesy of Instant Theatre

Instant Theatre will be bringing a martial arts themed improv show to the stage next month at Havana Theatre. Described as a kung fu spectacular, Fistful of Kicks aims to represent Asian Canadian improvisers in the theatre industry.

Curt Da Silva, director of Fistful of Kicks, says that Instant Theatre specializes in improvisation theatre productions as well as providing classes and training from improv to sketch comedy and acting for the camera. Founded in 1994, they currently have shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday that change every month. Current shows include Hype!, an improvised hip hopera, Talk Felty to Me, an improvised dirty puppet show, as well as Shakespeare After Dark, a raucous and interactive take on Shakespeare.

“We want to make the audience laugh as much as possible,” says Da Silva.

From academics to improv

Da Silva, who recently finished his Ph.D in Applied Math, became interested in improv when he was studying at UBC.

“I was feeling burnt out at school and decided to try something new,” says Da Silva.

He joined a social club at UBC called the Chinese Varsity Club and became involved with their annual dinner theatre production, Chin and Chow. From then on, his interest in improv grew as he moved from being a cast member to helping direct the show.

Da Silva, 27, discovered Instant Theatre when he purchased a Groupon for classes six years ago and he has been taking classes and performing with them ever since.

Asians in improv

As an Asian Canadian of Chinese and Portuguese descent, Da Silva wanted to represent Asian Canadian improvisers onstage as there are not a lot of them in the predominantly Caucasian industry.

“There was no opportunity to put our cultural roots onstage or make references pertinent to people from an Asian background,” says Da Silva.

Although Da Silva had the idea for Fistful of Kicks a few years ago, he didn’t have a chance to implement the show until this year.

“The goal is to provide a space for Asian Canadian improvisers in Vancouver to allow them to be themselves and tap into things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to onstage,” says Da Silva.

The show, which has been running since March, is about an hour long and usually begins with a legend that helps set the stage. The story follows the protagonists and their relationships and there is typically a villain involved.

Da Silva says the cast is free to bring forth their family and relationship dynamics from growing up in an Asian family. Asian food references are a must. Currently, there are nine members in the all-Asian cast.

Action-packed improv

major highlight of the show are the improvised fights in slow motion as well as some choreographed fights that happen in real time.

Nathania Bernabe is the fight director for Fistful of Kicks and she has trained with Fight Directors Canada since 2014. As an actor by trade, Bernabe also runs her own movement-based theatre company, Affair of Honour, with her partner Jackie Hamlin. Bernabe explains that her role was to ensure that the style of fighting fit the story, the improvisers were comfortable with the choreography and the violence was believable.

“It’s awesome that we’re highlighting diversity and that’s what makes it unique, “ says Bernabe, who is Filipino.

“We excel in telling a very cohesive and interesting story but also infusing a lot of comedy and Asian specific comedy,” says Da Silva. “People will get a real kick of watching us safely punch each other!”

Fistful of Kicks plays the first Friday of every month at Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive. The next show is on Dec. 1 at 10:30 p.m.

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