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Non-profit offers improv classes in Nanaimo for skits and giggles

Ask For Improv students shows planned for July 12-13
Dan Awalt, left, and Kenneth Lai during an Ask for Improv class at the Nanaimo Conservatory of Music.

An actor and "lover of fried chicken" has cultivated an encouraging space and improv community for people who just want to be silly.

After losing their jobs during the 2020 pandemic, Kenneth Lai and his wife decided to take a chance across the Salish Sea and moved from Burnaby to Nanaimo.

Once settled, Lai said he noticed the city had almost nothing to offer for improvisational theatre, having fallen in love with the art form in high school.

“A quick google search yielded basically nothing,” he said. “Except for one out-of-date class … And so I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to do it.’”

During his high school days, the actor competed in the Canadian Improv Games, a national festival in Ottawa for high school students, which, in his experience, focused more on self-improvement and support than competition. Lai then went on to Capilano University’s musical theatre program, and performed with community theatre groups and societies after graduation, all while keeping up with improv training. 

Following his passion for spontaneous hilarity, the actor founded the training and performance company, Ask For Improv, last fall and registered as a non-profit society in May. 

Since its early days in October, Lai said the Facebook group has grown to 100 members, and Ask For Improv has expanded its classes to include a multi-week training course, improv for workplace team-building, and a class for brain games to improve memory and creativity. 

“Improv in general is really good for public speaking skills,” he said. “It helps people get out of their own head since it’s very instinct and impulse based …  It’s about learning to let go so you can have fun and access that part of your brain that you haven’t since you were a little kid playing make-believe.”

At the drop-in sessions, Lai sees a mix of regular and new faces every week, and has even had inquiries from as far away as Campbell River. Drop-in usually starts with physical stretching and vocal warm-ups, followed by ice-breaker games and an overview of improv guidelines. By the end of class, students are performing full-blown scenes and trying to make each other laugh. 

“Some really cool things I see sometimes during a drop-in class – it’ll all be strangers, and by the end, people have made fast friends because they went through the ringer with me, teaching them how to look foolish and embrace failings and just laugh it off when you make a mistake,” the actor said. 

This week will see two shows, the Comedy Outlaws Improv Show, by students of the multi-week training course on Friday and Saturday, July 12-13, both from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

More information on the shows and about Ask For Improv can be found online at


Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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