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Improv Embassy studio aims to be Ottawa's comedic hub

Three improv performers in Ottawa are hoping that a new comedy hub will put an end to comedians leaving for funnier pastures in Toronto.

Dani Alon, bottom, Val Perelshtein and Chris Hannay goof around at Improv Embassy's main studio near the ByWard Market in Ottawa, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016

Justin Tang/For Metro

Dani Alon, bottom, Val Perelshtein and Chris Hannay goof around at Improv Embassy's main studio near the ByWard Market in Ottawa, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016

Could it be that Ottawa isn't the city fun forgot, but the city that funny people abandoned? Three improv performers in Ottawa are hoping that a new comedy hub will put an end to comedians leaving for funnier pastures in Toronto.

“There’s a comedic brain drain here,” said Val Perelshtein, business director of the Improv Embassy, a new performance space and school for improv and sketch comedy opening this week on Rideau Street.

Inside the colourful loft space of the Improv Embassy – equipped with a simple black stage, lights, props and seating – budding comedians will have a space to spend time, learn, rehearse and workshop their materiel.

For Perelshtein and co-founders Chris Hannay and Dani Alon, the space offers a solution to a number of challenges facing improv and sketch comedy talent in the city.

“There’s usually a couple groups active. In Ottawa in recent years there hasn’t been as much of a comedy scene because the big problem we have is that people who grow up here and lot of the talent moves away,” said Hannay.

“There’s lots of great comedians in Toronto right now who grew up in Ottawa – but they didn’t stay. We’re trying to create a home for improv here in the city, in hopes to retain some of that talent and help build it,” he said.

The space will operate as a non-profit, but the business model is built on improv classes that include “Intro to Sketch Comedy” and “Improv Basics.” The space also has an emphasis on encouraging diverse preformers and comedy that "punches up" at the powerful.

None of the three owners have quit their day job either – Hannay is a journalist, Perelshtein is a government analyst and Alon is a freelance visual artist. All three say that improv has had a huge impact on their lives.

“We want people to know what improv is and most of all we want people to do it and catch the bug like we have,” said Perelshtein. “We feel the benefits in our personal and professional lives from doing it.”

Perelshtein’s dream is to use improv as a way to improve the worklife of public servants in Ottawa. She said skills like problem-solving, optimism and collaboration could go a long way to solving some of the stereotypical problems in a bureaucratic work environment.

“The main thing that helps with improv is it skews your vision towards the ‘yes’ and the positive. Yes, and – now I’ll accept your idea, agree with you and I’m going to add another element. Now we’re building it together,” she said.

While they aren’t making any promises, local improv might even find you a life partner. Hannay and Alon’s wedding rings are inscribed with the improv motto “Yes, And” – a phrase meant to encourage performers, but one that could also get public servants and spouses working better together too.

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