Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sin Peaks

From the Georgia Straight

Sin Peaks deftly handles surprises

A colourful cast of characters brings weekly scandal to the Waldorf with the improv soap opera Sin Peaks.
Peter Holst
By Andrea Warner,
It’s 10:30 a.m. on Victoria Day, the star of your show is in Portland, Oregon, and the border lineups to return to Canada are already four hours long. Any other theatre company would be screwed, but the weekly improv soap opera Sin Peaks is all about deftly handling surprises. After all, the first rule of improv is “Never say no.”

It’s a principle that’s permitted Sin Peaks to evolve wildly since opening night, five “episodes” ago, when it introduced its audience to the 1979 all-inclusive Tahitian paradise Sin Peaks Resort (aka the Waldorf Hotel’s basement cabaret room). The island’s awash in soap hallmarks like sex, betrayal, and scandal, but there’s also an active volcano, a hunt for a “double-barrelled-assholed” primate, a corpse in the resort’s boiler room, and the bomb dropped at that fateful Victoria Day show: a woman is back from the dead!

“I didn’t even know her mother was dead!” says Sin Peaks director Aimée Beaudoin, laughing as she speaks to the Straight the next day over chips and guacamole at a Main Street diner. Stephen Keppler, Sin Peaks codirector and actor, nods in agreement.

“It’s all improvised, so the director has to improvise as well,” he says. “That’s what makes the show kind of unique. You can’t control what people are going to do on the stage, so you have to just go with it and hope it’s going to go somewhere.”

Keppler knows this all too well. He’s spent the last three weeks directing Sin Peaks in Beaudoin’s absence (she was busy playing the lead in her new vampire film, Truckstop Bloodsuckers, for Bite TV) and had to handle the Victoria Day debacler.

As evidenced by that show, the big risks that come with sudden upheaval can have brilliant payoffs. To fill the gap left by their lead’s absence, Keppler and Beaudoin crafted a one-night-only role for Beaudoin as Mrs. Beverly, the viciously funny, elderly mother of two prominent resort guests. It was a memorable debut: hilarious one-liners, moments of heartfelt growth, and a full-on same-sex make-out session with the island chief, who channelled Mrs. Beverly’s recently deceased husband.

But this is just one of at least 14 characters to inhabit the Sin Peaks Resort. It’s an impressive feat: the cast members have to negotiate the myriad plots and develop their characters in 90 minutes and 18 scenes. The pace is brisk and while not every joke lands, there are more hits than misses.

It helps that many of the young actors have roots in improv. Most are long-time friends from Edmonton who met at that city’s Jubilations Dinner Theatre and have since relocated here, and a few Vancouver actors and comedians round out the cast. But it’s still a relatively new experience for most to produce a weekly show. According to Keppler, it’s a lot of trial and error, but they’ve received friendly tips from like-minded improv companies across the country, including Edmonton’s Die-Nasty, the long-running weekly soap opera that counts Mike Myers and Nathan Fillion among its alumni.

“Die-Nasty have been doing it for 21 years and they’re our heroes,” Keppler says. “At first we were trying to emulate what they were doing, but now it’s becoming its own thing.”

With just weeks until the first season wraps on June 25, Beaudoin and Keppler are already thinking about the next iteration, which starts in September: westerns, fairy tales, and space odysseys have all been floated as possible genres. But first, how to steer Sin Peaks towards its first finale?

“There will be more death and sex in the next few weeks,” Beaudoin predicts. “I don’t think anybody’s safe. But I don’t want to get everyone bogged down with, ‘Oh, we have to tie everything up.’ Soap operas don’t really do that anyway. There’s still mysteries. We’ll just keep having fun. And hopefully, something will happen with that volcano.”

Sin Peaks runs at the Waldorf Hotel on Monday nights until June 25.

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