Emily Kover, Jessica Johnson, Chantel Johnson, Laura McAvoy, Brook Lowery, Melika Rezazadeh make up the R.E. Mountain senior improv team. (Special to Black Press)

Langley high school girls breaking stereotypes by excelling at improv

A team from R.E. Mountain Secondary were ranked fourth nationally, after winning in B.C.

By Teshu Agarwal/Special to the Langley Advance Times

Canadian Improv Games (CIG) return every year and bring with them hopeful contestants and joyful tears of winners.

A random word, a random situation, and a random location picked out by the audience determines the fate of each team.

This random word rules their four minutes on the stage.

Thinking quickly on their feet, the contestants scramble each year to coordinate and improv while incorporating their random word of the act.

Like every year, CIG 2019 was special in its own way.

R.E. Mountain high-schoolers recently created history for themselves and raised the bar higher for future improv artists of the school.

A team of three Grade 12 girls – Chantel Johnson, Jessica Johnson, and Emily Kover, along with three Grade 11 girls – Brook Lowery, Laura McAvoy, and Melika Rezazadeh – won the inter-school B.C. competition and earned the right to advance to the national high school improvisation tournament in Ottawa last month.

Competing among the top 15 teams from across Canada, the local girls made the cut, landing in the top five – a first ever in Mountain’s history – and adding another feather to their hat. And, ultimately, they brought home fourth place.

One proud parent, Jianna Fantillo, interjected her comments about the team and its accomplishments.

“These might just look like six average young girls, but these girls are performers,” Fantillo said.

“They have captivating stage presence and are all wonderful actors and improvisers. The best part about this team is they have all become best friends. They consider each other sisters and on stage- it shows. They support each other’s choices on stage and have got each other’s backs,” said Fantillo.

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A first for the teacher, too

Another historic first for the school was an all girls senior team.

“I’ve been a teacher for 25 years and I’ve heard it all – girls can’t be funny, girls can’t win an improv competition. But my six best actors, this year, happened to be female and they break down stereotypes by being the best team in Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland!” said a proud Gura Sidhu, who coaches improv teams at R.E. Mountain.

Being a theatre enthusiast, he wants to give more opportunities to more students in a different medium. And, he’s doing that through improv.

In fact, he’s been coaching student improv teams at R.E. Mountain since the early 2000s.

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Breaking the stereotypes

“In the beginning it was intimidating because we were an all-girls team and there is a stigma that boys are funny, and they’re supposed to be the silly ones. Males bring a different energy to the stage, so we were nervous about our performance, but we overcame that by working hard and proving that we can be funny and silly,” gushed Chantel and Jessica Johnson, twins who were a part of the team.

Chantel has learned a lot from this recent experience.

“My life has changed because of it,” she said. “It taught me person skills like doing better at a job interview, given me public speaking skills, thinking on my feet, and confidence.”

Jessica considers the toughest challenge in improvising to be understanding each other’s ideas – since there are six brains working simultaneously on the stage.

But the group has tried very hard to overcome those challenges and have actually developed what she calls more than just a friendship, but a sisterhood.

The Johnson twins were introduced to improv in Grade 8.

Chantel was caught up in the awe of theatre like it was love at first sight. She described the scene as an “incredible environment” and instantly wished to be a part of the improv group.

They auditioned in Grade 9 and out of fifty-or-so people, Jessica, Chantel, and Emily were selected.

They’ve stuck with their passion since and made it into an historic team that will serve as an inspiration for many others who might want to consider getting into improv.

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Emily Kover, Brook Lowery, and Jessica Johnson (back) as well as Laura McAvoy, Chantel Johnson, and Melika Rezazadeh took the R.E. Mountain senior improv team all the way to fourth at the nationals. (Special to Black Press)

Chantel Johnson, Melika Rezazadeh, Laura McAvoy, Jessica Johnson, Brook Lowery, and Emily Kover

Back Row: Melika Rezazadeh, Laura McAvoy, Brook Lowery. Front Row: Jessica Johnson, Emily Kover, Chantel Johnson

Emily Kover, Jessica Johnson, Brook Lowery, Chantel Johnson, Laura McAvoy, Melika Rezazadeh

Chantel Johnson, Laura AcAvoy, Brook Lowery, Melika Rezazadeh, Jessica Johnson, Brook Lowery

Emily Kover, Jessica Johnson, Chantel Johnson, Laura McAvoy, Melika Rezazadeh, Brook Lowery, and instructor Gura Sidhu

Emily Kover, Jessica Johnson, Chantel Johnson, Laura McAvoy, Brook Lowery, Melika Rezazadeh

Gura Sidhu

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