Open all night
Reviewby Sean McQuaid
Your semiconscious scribbler slept sparingly this past Easter weekend, thanks in part to the Popalopalots improv comedy troupe. In 2016, the group improvised for 26 hours straight as a fundraiser for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and they did it again on March 30-31 this year to raise more money for the QEH.
Most of the original marathon’s survivors were back, including troupe founders Rob MacDonald, Dylan Miller and Graham Putnam, plus Jordan Cameron, Kelly Caseley and Cameron MacDonald. Making it a magnificent seven was recent recruit Kassinda Bulger in her Popalopathon debut.
(I’m not sure if “Popalopathon” is the event’s proper name—some of the promotional material refers to it as the “Popalopalots 26-hour Improv Marathon”—but troupe members have used the “Popalopathon” term, it’s short and catchy, and it sounds like a potential Creature Cantina background character or something, so I’m embracing the shorter title.)
The Popalopathon offers the troupe’s usual freewheeling comedic pizzazz, plus the sadistically fascinating spectacle of human beings pushed past their mental, emotional and physical limits for entertainment purposes. As the audience guffawed its way through the final, grueling hours, my thoughts drifted back to The Simpsons and spectator Hans Moleman shouting at a kids’ hockey game: “We paid for blood!”
Not much bloodshed this year, though, figurative or otherwise. I only saw about eight hours of the marathon spread across several visits (family commitments made watching the complete show impossible), but the performers seemed to be holding up better this year in the segments I watched, including the finale. They seemed a bit less punchy this time (give or take Cameron MacDonald walking into a wall at one point), and definitely less randomly surly.
They were even managing some pretty technically tricky games late in the marathon, like the “split screen” gimmick where two different sets of three actors perform simultaneous, interlocking versions of the same scene on two separate halves of the stage; the cast of the scene changes whenever an actor walks into the stage left wings and his or her counterpart walks on from stage right (or vice versa) and picks up where the first actor left off.
Actors took occasional breaks, whether deliberate ones offstage or less deliberate ones onstage; Jordan and Dylan in particular power-napped their way through parts of certain scenes, which may have been partly where they both got the energy for some artfully deft balloon dueling late in the game.
Sister troupe Side Hustle joined the Popalopalots for part of Saturday afternoon, featuring hustlers Sarah Brown, Jill Chandler, Patti Larsen and Monica Rafuse (this writer’s sister). The infusion of fresh energy helped, and the guest stars performed well. Rob complimented the hustlers on their pantomime object work (quite strong), and the Larsen-Rafuse duo executed a commendably coherent, compact, tightly crafted alphabet sketch.
Popalopathon 2018 had categories of games/topics scheduled for each 30 or 60-minute block, ranging from staples like “Follow That Character” (Jordan and Kelly dominated as a quivery alien and his crusty manager, respectively) or improvised songs (Jordan and Cameron’s tale of socialist sea monkey dystopia was equal parts funny, disturbing and poignant) to weirder segments like family-friendly improv fairy tales (my preteen daughter and niece helped with those) or Rob discussing his 20 favourite numbers between one and 100 (seriously, I watched that happen circa 1 AM for 30-plus minutes).
This more structured approach may have helped sustain momentum and morale, and definitely guaranteed a wide variety of material. Not every game or sketch clicked, but these seven brave souls and their collaborators scored a lot of laughs and raised a lot of money for a good cause.