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Breaking boundaries with improv

Improv: title to defend

They went in with no expectations. Well, other than to make people laugh.

What they came away with was more than they could have ever imagined.

The five students from Carihi’s modest French Immersion program took home a trophy, medals, and a boost of confidence in themselves and each other.

The students, from Grades 9 and 11, were the winners of an improv tournament at the Festival du bois de Maillardville in Coquitlam.

It was the first time francophone students from an English high school had ever competed in the tournament. Not only that, the group – dubbed the Raisins Mûr which in English translates to the Ripe Grapes (a nod to a warm up exercise that twists students’ faces as if they’ve eaten a ripe grape) – had only been together since December.

The students’ teacher, Mme Suzanne Rivard, said she couldn’t be prouder of her students who beat out five other teams – three from Vancouver, one from Kelowna and one from Victoria.

“It’s really awesome how improvisation helps the students, it gives you so much more confidence,” Rivard says. “It really boosted their confidence and I had parents telling me they had never seen their child so happy before.”

Rivard says she was encouraged to see some of the students, who tended to be on the shy side, transform on the stage.

She says they had only ever practiced in front of their own classmates (in a class with 19 students) and at the festival, they were put in front of roughly 70 people they didn’t know.

Student Isaiah Sheppard said he and his teammates were in it to have fun and expectations were low.

“We thought we lost on the first day because we had won one match and lost the second but it turned out others had the same record so we had to do the matches all over again which we were not expecting,” Sheppard said, adding that Carihi’s team kept moving up in the bracket until they won it all. “It was a really intense match, the final one. We were tied 2-2 and so we got to play one last game.”

The team had 30 seconds to come up with a game plan.

The topic?

‘Ouch, my back hurts.’

And the teams could use noises, but no words.

The winning skit involved Sheppard laid up with back pain and getting no relief from either a masseuse, chiropractor, or acupuncturist.

“Lo and behold, a beautiful girl touched me on the back and instantly fixed it,” Sheppard says. “And the crowd loved it.”

The skits were judged by the audience, people attending the francophone festival who stopped by the improv tent and cast votes for the winners. Student Marie-Gabrielle Béchard said the best part was getting to be someone else.

“There are no boundaries with improv, you can be who you want to be and nobody judges you,” she says. “The point is to be laughed at. We went there with no expectations.”

Sheppard agreed.

“Winning wasn’t the goal, it was just a fun thing to do,” he says. “I liked just meeting a bunch of people who share the same culture as you.”

But next year it may not be all fun and games.

“We have to defend our title,” he says.

Rivard, for her part, is just glad to see her students’ efforts pay off.

“It’s so nice they’re being recognized within the school,” Rivard says of her French Immersion students. “It’s such a small class.”

The improv tournament is part of the Festival du Bois de Maillardville which celebrates the French culture with French cuisine, French music and entertainment. The festival, which took place from March 4 to 6, was the 27th annual and is the largest francophone festival on Canada’s West Coast.