WHY SHE’S TOP 40: She uses the fearless, inclusive spirit of improv to delight local audiences and put Edmonton on the international stage.
KEY TO SUCCESS: “Be willing to fail. Everything is process.”
Back in July, Rapid Fire Theatre put on its last-ever improv show at the Varscona Theatre. The beloved troupe had operated out of the same Old Strathcona venue for 20 years. So many loyal fans came out to its farewell show, Rapid Fire had to turn away more than 100 people at the door.
“We got a standing ovation at the end,” remembers artistic director Amy Shostak, who’s been a player with Rapid Fire since 2002. “People cried. I cried.”
For the past three years, Shostak has served as artistic director. She’s put a new emphasis on clear lines of communication within the group through a system of ongoing feedback — no easy feat for a group of 35 creative types. But she’s also helped refine Improvaganza, the flagship festival that draws troupes from as far as Norway and cutting-edge comedians such as Maria Bamford, as well as helped mastermind the new festival, Bonfire, which focuses on long-form improv. There’s a third festival she also helps manage: WildFire, for high-school students.
WildFire is but one piece of its important youth programming. In fact, it was a Rapid Fire in class workshop that first seduced the shy Eastglen High student. Now she tries to recreate her own origin story for others, with impressive results. “[It’s] where the majority of our performers come from.”
But Shostak’s most visible legacy may be Rapid Fire’s relocation downtown, to the Citadel’s refurbished Zeidler Hall. This gives the group larger audiences and juicier timeslots, but its combined stage and office space also appealed to Shostak’s business sense. “I constantly feel like I’m the responsible mom,” she says proudly.
In recent years Shostak has also personally branched out, into writing gigs for CBC’s Irrelevant Show, the Fringe, and a recent talk about creative collaboration for TEDxEdmonton. But her heart remains with improv — a good thing, too, since she’s undeniably one of Rapid Fire’s most magnetic performers. “There’s a certain stigma that improv has to be a certain thing,” she says. “But you don’t have to be wacky, or wear a funny hat. You can be anything.”