Funny business afoot as Rapid Fire Theatre moves to the Citadel

The old idea that the Citadel Theatre is the Edmonton version of Broadway, this ivory tower that’s both artistically and financially above all other local theatre companies is about to get turned on its head.

Rapid Fire Theatre is moving in. These guys are loud, known to cuss, usually hilarious, and they don’t even know what they’re doing until they do it. Audiences, meanwhile, are young, sometimes a little drunk and prone to outbursts of raucous laughter. Jesters and hooligans in the Hallowed Halls of the Citadel? What would Joe Shoctor have thought?

Too late to turn back now. After more than 32 years growing up in the soon-to-be-renovated Varscona Theatre, the improv company finally gets its own place in the Citadel’s Zeidler Hall (former site of the Metro Cinema). The first shows are this coming Friday and Saturday nights. Symbolic “movin’ on up to the North Side” performances happen Wednesday on the High Level Bridge Street Car as it slowly trundles its way across the river (shows are sold out). It’s a one way trip – to the big time.

Rapid Fire artistic director Amy Shostak and her troupe are well aware of the Citadel’s prestige as it may be compared to all the “off Broadway” theatre companies in town, and have pondered the questions, “Are we not underground anymore? Are we mainstream now? Are we selling out?” Rhetorical questions, but here are the answers anyway: Yes, maybe, and no. It should be noted, Shostak says, that improvised theatre in general has become more mainstream. The Citadel brought in Blind Date last season, a hit show that’s almost completely improvised.

There are benefits on both sides. Rapid Fire gets a permanent, dedicated space. They can put on shows at civilized times – 7 and 10 p.m., instead of the 11 p.m. slots they had to take at the Varscona. They can put on more shows, and they can draw new fans from folks already in the building seeing whatever musical blockbuster is playing over at the Shoctor Stage, and who may desire a little theatrical chaser around 10 p.m. The Citadel, meanwhile, gets a bunch of young people into the building who may have never been there before. It’s a win-win situation.

It remains to be seen how all of these changes will affect the sort of shows Rapid Fire puts on.

Says Shostak, “How will it change us culturally? Will It? We don’t want it to … They told us, ‘We want you guys to be loud and racy and be what you guys are.’ They want that energy for the space. They’re bringing us in for a reason, hopefully to shake things up a little bit.”

For evidence, look no further than the slogan they came up with to mark the big move: “Downtown nightlife really is a joke.”