Cam Chomyn and Andrew Parry are used to acting on the spot, but their lives have become a lot more structured since becoming business owners last month.
They call themselves the Hitchhikers Improv Company, and they are one of the only improv companies in Regina.
Improv is a form of theatre where the actors have no scripts, or stories. What is seen on stage is created on the spot, and Chomyn and Parry are experts at it.
For the past five years, the duo of 20-year-olds, along with two others, Danny Murphy, 21, and Sam Gross, 20, have created a strong following and turned their passion into a small business.
“With Hitchhikers, you saw the four of us each month and we would bring in people who hadn’t performed in awhile. It’s sort of that hitchhiker aspect of picking people up from the side of the road. It was for those who never really had a chance post-highschool,” said Chomyn, a University of Regina education student.
The four had successful high school careers as improvisers, but found that there were no opportunities to continue their craft after they graduated.
“There were so many times where we would talk to friends around the city and they would say, ‘We haven’t done something like that in so long.’ We just took it into our own hands. Let’s make these opportunities for people to do that,” Chomyn said.
Along with seven main cast members, the group added 13 new members -- students who pay an annual fee of $200 to be part of the group.
“In Regina, there are not a lot of improv classes other than the Globe Theatre and we just wanted to give the students a way to learn. We wanted to give the students a chance to come on board and be a member of our house teams which gives them an actual chance to perform every month and also workshop them and improve their improv skills,” Chomyn said.
“It just popped into our heads and we were shocked no one in Regina was doing this yet -- like it was such a no-brainer to do this. Start work-shopping kids and improving their skills, and improve the improv community, it just came from that,” he said.
Chomyn says that part of their mission is to make a stronger improv community like the ones they’ve seen in other Canadian cities.
“When we sat down to create Hitchhikers we realised that Regina had such a strong cast of improvisers but not that much of a community yet,” Chomyn said.
“I think Hitchhikers is really trying to draw out that community aspect. Around Canada we see such wonderful companies and their communities are so strong. We’re trying to build that up and we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
For the last two years, the group had been performing out of Creative City Centre, but have since moved venues to The Artesian, a performance centre in Regina’s Cathedral neighbourhood.
"We started doing shows with maybe 10 people which included my parents."
“It was a small long hallway that could fit 50 people. We started doing shows with maybe 10 people which included my parents,” Chomyn says, laughing.
“We started with a bunch of our parents and maybe six of our close friends, and word just kept spreading and it grew to the point where we were selling out. The last three shows were packed. It just came to a point where we thought, ‘we can’t be here anymore,’” said Parry, a University of Regina film student.
“It came to a point where we had to turn people away at the door, and that’s a horrible feeling for a performer,” Chomyn added.
The move allows the Hitchhikers to almost triple audience size. It also means an increase in ticket sales. In their first show of the season, they were able fill 141 seats.
“The most amazing thing was such an uproarius applause at the end. Performing for a crowd of 15, you don’t get that. So to perform in front of 140 and to get that, that was great,” said Chomyn.
Chomyn and Parry say that the money from the shows goes mostly to rent, but also back into the company in the form of out-of-town events and festivals.
The duo admits that the added stress of being business owners have been challenging, but after a successful opening show last month, they are excited about their new businesses' outlook.
“We thought we could make ourselves more apparent in the city. We have the ability to do that. We spent all of summer finding a place to perform, finding out who was interested in building this kind of community, figuring out pricing, reading a budget for something -- that was something I had never done before,” Parry said.
“It was so stressful until that moment when it was eight o’clock and the show started. All of the stress went away and seeing the crowd react was so great. I think in those moments all of the work you’ve been doing and all of the hair you’ve lost is totally worth it,” said Chomyn.
“The thing that I love to work for is just making people smile. When you get a good hearty laugh from some biker dude who is sitting in the corner of the Artesian waiting for some stupid dick joke that you make, that’s the specific moment I look for,” said Parry.
The Hitchhikers Improv Company performs monthly shows at the Artesian. Its next show is on Tuesday, Oct 28.