The Citiots Improv have become a fixture in Peterborough, playing monthly sold-out shows at the Gordon Best Theatre on Hunter Street —and more and more private gigs around Ontario as they grow in popularity. They provide, as renowned Canadian improv comedian Adam Cawley describes, "hilarious, fast paced, unforgettable improv." (Cawley himself has performed with them on several occasions.)
How did this awesome, influential troupe come to be? One of its original founders, Ray Henderson, explains...
"Ray! Can you get some of the gang together and do a show at the Bethany Hills Ski Resort this weekend? I’ve called you guys 'The Citiots’!'" That phone call from the legendary Paul O’Sullivan in February 2009 changed the lives of myself, Dan Smith, Luke Foster, and everyone who followed.
Up until that point, Paul and I had been the producers of the successful “Impros vs Joes” series at the Gordon Best, which began in 2008. "Improvs vs Joes" was an evening of improv that included some of Paul’s famous friends (Jack Mosshammer, Patrick McKenna, Lisa Merchant, Colin Mochrie, and, of course, his wife, Linda Kash, to a name a few) as well as local “Joes”, including students from his classes as well as Dan Smith and Luke Foster. The latter had already achieved some success with their former troupe, “The Shrimps”, years earlier.
ALWAYS PICK UP THE PHONE
Back to the phone call from Paul O'Sullivan…I immediately called Dan Smith and asked if he would do the show with me, and who else he thought we should ask. Fast forward to that night in February 2009 in Bethany Hills, as five very nervous improvisers sat around a dinner table at the resort, pouring over the games list, hoping we remembered how to play each game. Hoping our mouths wouldn’t fail us and allow for noise to exit in some cohesive and entertaining fashion.
That first ever Citiot crew consisted of myself, Dan and Luke, as well as Phil Oakley and Emily Doyle—a performer that had been a part of my shows with Arbor Theatre since she was 8 years old in 1999. The ski resort must have liked us, because “The Citiots” were hired for 2 more shows that spring (Megan Murphy made her debut at the second show).
We did well in Bethany, but Dan and I didn’t think that a Peterborough audience would be ready for a Citiots show. Afterall, they knew us. Why would they pay to see us? And Peterborough already had the Impros vs Joes Show.
Flash forward to November, 2010. The week of an Impros show, Paul called me to let me know that he and Linda were double booked and couldn’t make the Friday gig. I called Dan. We already had the sponsorship in place. The room was booked. Should we make it a Citiots show?
NERVES: THE FIRST SHOW AT GORDON BEST THEATRE
As people climbed the stairs of the Gordon Best that November 2010 night, they were greeted at the door by a familiar face, me, who explained to them that it was no longer an Impros show, but a “Citiots” show. Same people…ish would perform, I told them, minus the “celebrity” element, and that it was up to them if they wanted to stay. They did.
The night was a success, with Luke, Dan, Phil and now Paul Nabuurs and I, along with Danny Bronson on the keys.
THIS THING IS GETTING REAL
May 2011. The same situation arises with Impros. Cancellations. But we improvise again with the same plan. We make it a Citiots show. Ray, Luke, Dan, Paul, Danny and Megan—and now with 17-year-old Kate Ethier as a guest. Result: Same happy audience.
June 2011. Why not actually PROMOTE an actual Citiots Show? Why not see if people want to come and see us? Ray, Dan, Kate, Danny, and now Kenn Gibb and Pat Maitland joined the fray. And people came. And people laughed. It was beautiful.
Over the years now, we have performed (almost) every month at our homebase, the Gordon Best, as well as many other venues, private parties, fundraisers and corporate events. We have secured sponsorships from industry juggernauts, Steam Whistle Brewery and PTBOCanada.com. We have an official photographer, Jess Latone of J.Lee Photography. We received the Wire Award for “Best Performance Artist”, as voted by fans.
We have shared the stage with some of the Improv industry’s best, including Patrick McKenna, Linda Kash, Peter Wildman, and Mantown Improv (Canadian Comedy Award Winners for best Improv Troupe). We have brought local icons up on stage with us, including Paul Rellinger, Catherine Hanrahan, Caley Bedore, The Jobless boys, and Mike Judson.
Our current lineup of Ray, Dan, Luke, Kenn, Paul, Kate, Mike, Danny and Andrew Root have been a unit since January 2014. We know that we owe it all to this amazing and incredibly supportive community who continually come out and share laughter and love with them.
Oh, and Paul O'Sullivan, thanks for your phone call. You changed our lives forever.
—written by Ray Henderson
The Citiots next show is Friday, April 21st at 8 pm at Gordon Best Theatre. Learn more about them on their website.
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