Ligue nationale d'improvisation
Ligue nationale d'improvisation (LNI) is an improvisational theatresports group devised in Montréal in the 70s whose rules imitate those of hockey, and whose "matches" are fought on a skating rink. Two teams of actors-improvisers face off for three periods, and a referee ensures respect for the rules and the designation of punishment. The subject, style, number of players, and length of each improvisation are chosen at random. An audience vote by show of hands indicates the winner of each confrontation, and the team accumulating the most points wins the match. The LNI proposes a regular season with qualifying heats as in the National Hockey League.
The simple yet magical idea flows from improvisation exercises set up at The Théâtre Expérimental de Montréal. Its creator, Robert Gravel, wanted to extend a show's usual performance limits, make it somewhat less controlled, enable the actors to see their art as entertainment, and give spectators a chance to participate actively in performances. The first official "match" took place on October 21, 1977, with almost immediate success. The LNI, which separated from the Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental after its first three years, would become the most popular theatre phenomenon of the eighties with the play Brew (Broue). In its best years, the LNI comprised five teams playing twenty or so matches. Several hundred professional actors have participated in the LNI.
Improvisational evenings were broadcast on Québec television for several seasons. The model itself was widely copied, and improvisation leagues appeared in secondary schools, Cégeps, universities, business, bars, and vacation communities. Their success transcended borders, and leagues appeared in Europe, the Antilles and French-speaking Africa. National teams gathered at world cup events. The phenomenon began to run out of steam in the late eighties, when paradoxically, a certain conventionalism in the improvisation seems to have hit the experimental troupe. Télé-Québec ceased broadcasting the matches in 1988. However, after trailing off for a few years, the phenomenon experienced some revival and derivative forms appeared. The Ligue d'improvisation montréalaise (LIM), founded in 1991, eliminated the referee and introduced music and previously unused methods of improvisation into the play. In 1995, the Fédération québécoise d'improvisation was formed in an attempt to regulate the sector. Two years later, improvisation again found its place on the small screen (on Télé-Québec) and the Just for Laughs Festival took the organisation of the Mondial de l'impro under its wing. In October 2007, the Théâtre de la Ligue nationale de l'impro highlighted its 30th anniversary by presenting the Tournoi des étoiles and honouring Patrick L'Écuyer, Raymond Legault, les Bâtisseurs and Hélène Mercier who were figureheads for thirty years.