Improv comedy can be risky. Adding audience participation for a nearly 60-minute show could be down right suicidal.
Fortunately, Vancouver’s Travis Bernhardt is clever enough to carry off the improvisation. And the Fringe audience, at least at Sunday’s performance of Unscriptured, was more-than-willing to provide the necessary helping hand.
In Unscriptured, Bernhardt conducts a church service, complete with hymns, prayers and all other manner of religious silliness from an initial audience suggestion. During this particular performance, Bernhardt waffled between “really bad wigs” and “wet shoes”.
Eventually going with wet shoes, Bernhardt proceeded to get the audience on its feet for a couple of hymns including a rousing rendition of “When The Saints Coming Marching In”. The skill here was not just Bernhardt’s ability to make-up new words to the song on the spot based on the wet shoes religion, but to also be charismatic enough to get the entire audience participate. Bernhardt does the same in another section where he makes up prayers, based on audience suggestions pulled from a box.
Some of Unscriptured did become a little repetitive, especially in the prayer portion of the show where the audience repeated Bernhardt’s prayer. Of course, it was a clever and necessary device to give him enough time to come up with the next sentence of his prayer.
The finale, which saw some audience members willingly take to the stage as “witnesses” to the new religion, was the funniest part of the show. Even to Bernhardt’s surprise there was no lack of willing participants to help out, and even to get their shoes wet.
It is not difficult to see how an improvised show like Unscriptured could easily derail with an audience less willing to participate. Fortunately this was not the case this afternoon. And for that we raise our hands in prayer and appreciation. Squish Squish!
Unscriptured continues at Carousel Theatre on Granville Island as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Visit vancouverfringe.com for tickets and information.