Marty McFly’s trip back (and forwards) in time is one of the most loved films of the ’80s – or any era. For the past year, Toronto improviser/director/producer Quentin Matheson has been entertaining audiences with his ode to the franchise, Back To The Future: The Improv Show.
Cameron and I were the featured couple at their BCIF show last year, and it was one of the funnest times I’ve had on stage. (Hey, any chance to brag about dating the intern 10 years younger than me, I’ll take it.)
We asked Matheson about the geeky glory that is BTTF.
P&C: For newbies, what’s the premise of the show?
QM: Like the movie, we explore the idea of rewriting history with the intent of still hitting the happy ending.
We get a real love story from a couple I interview at the start of the show. The cast then recreates the story, but we give it the Back To The Future treatment. Namely, a time-traveller who screws things up!
P&C: What inspired you to develop it?
QM: I was fairly new to improv and wanted to get more involved in it when I went home to my folks’ for Christmas. Comedy Bar’s Festival of New Formats was in a couple of weeks, which piqued my interest.
Anyway, Christmas is the only time I watch cable and that year BTTF was running constantly. Watching it, I was reminded just how clever and satisfying that screenplay is. And it just struck me maybe that story structure could work on stage and for any love story. I forgot about it for a year until the next New Formats came around, and thought I’d try it.
P&C: How do you choose your couples; what are their qualifications, so to speak?
QM: I’m looking for stories we can build an epic action-adventure around. But really just a fun, interesting story. A loving couple that’s been together a good while and are clearly going the distance.
P&C: It’s a great mix of comedic truth (the couple’s story) and truth in comedy (the improvised portion). Are you ever surprised by what people reveal on stage?
QM: I didn’t expect the couples to be quite so earnest. I think the supportive crowd helps bring that out. You get some vulnerability which is awesome, because it raises the stakes.
P&C: Tell us about the secrecy around the show.
QM: People are always curious who the next couple is going to be, but I keep it secret. Even the cast doesn’t know. They hear the story at the same time as the audience.
P&C: You’ve assembled a fabulous team of improvisers. What are some of the challenges of the show’s format, or do they find it relatively easy to play out?
QM: I think re-enacting a story just told is straightforward enough for seasoned improvisers, but our big challenge is working out the twist: how the time-traveller changes the storyline, and how to get back to the happy ending. Fortunately the cast is up to the challenge.
P&C: How can interested couples get in touch with you?
What Past Couples Have Said About The Show
How did you feel when you were asked to do the show?
“Flattered, exhilarated and excited.”
“So exciting. No one knew, but that year marked 20 years of being together. We’re not much for ceremony, but what a beautiful anniversary gift.”
How did it feel up there telling your story?
“It’s great to share. I guess most couples come up with their own original myth that they pull out when asked. Usually in the re-telling, you gauge your audience and cut it short when you sense you’re boring them. But it was wonderful to be encouraged to go on in detail in front of a captive audience.”
“People loved it. We felt like celebrities.”
What would you say to other couples who might want to do this?
“Feel the fear and do it anyway! It’s great fun, and an awesome chance to share your love story with others.”
The next BTTF: TIS is Saturday, February 16, 8:00 pm at Comedy Bar.