Hot Thespian Action began in 2006 when the three female members of the group (Shannon Guile, Jacqueline Loewen and Jane Testar) took a special studies class in Advanced Mime and Improv at the University of Winnipeg under the tutelage of Rick Skene. Over time, the class changed to fit the interests and aptitudes of the learners, and broadened from just mime to comedy writing.
By the end, the ladies had an in-depth knowledge of physicality and comedy, as well as a catalog of hilarious sketches. With the addition of fellow U of W students Garth Merkeley and Grant Burr, the group rounded itself out and began to work on its 2006 Fringe show Hands On. The show featured a stripped down minimalist esthetic, inspired by the group’s mime roots, along with a penchant for the physical and witty. It was received with critical success and sold out houses.
In the intervening year, Grant stepped away to focus on his growing family and Ryan Miller, another UofW alum and friend, joined and has been a member since. With Ryan on board, HTA created 2008’s big hit Hands Off which garnered Hot Thespian Action five stars from the Winnipeg Free Press and an interest from many parties, including the CBC, and the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.
HTA has performed yearly at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival since, garnering 5 star reviews, packed houses and “Best of Fest” designations every time.
HTA’s relationship with CBC radio grew over the years, resulting in HTA writing and performing in an hour long radio play Pitching the Turkey, which aired nationally on Thanksgiving, as well as writing and performing several sketches that aired on the national radio show Laugh Out Loud.
The Winnipeg Comedy Fest invited HTA to their festival year after year since, starting in 2009 as a 20 minute set as part of a larger show, growing to a full hour long headlining show in 2010 (which, incidentally, was the first act of the festival to sell out) and in 2011, a headlining show AND a set in one of the nationally televised gala performances alongside a cast of Canadian comedy icons like Andrea Martin and Cathy Jones. Finally, in 2012 they reached comedy nirvana, when they starred alongside host Alan Thicke as his singing and dancing sidekicks in the televised “Save The World Telethon” gala.
On top of their yearly commitments at the Winnipeg Fringe and Comedy Festivals, HTA travels to festivals far and wide. On top of the Toronto SketchFest where they have performed several times, HTA has appeared at Vancouver SketchFest, Seattle SketchFest, Chicago SketchFest and San Francisco SketchFest.
In 2011, 2012 and 2014, HTA was nominated for the Canadian Comedy Awards in the Category of “Best Sketch Comedy Troupe.”
HTA has written a TV pilot script for a half hour comedy series. Working with Emmy and Golden Globe winning producer Kim Todd and her partner Nick Hirst at Original Pictures, HTA travelled to Toronto in December of 2012 with Original Pictures to pitch the concept and pilot script to broadcasters.
In 2015, original member Jacquie Loewen left to focus on her solo career. The remaining foursome perform regularly throughout the year.
HTA is in the process of working with Kim Todd to see a web-series version of the sitcom concept through to fruition. A pilot episode for the web-series, entitled “Down A Peg,” was shot in the winter of 2018. The web-series, and its journey to one day becoming a televised sitcom, will be HTA’s main focus going forward.
Shannon Guile is a comedian/writer/actor/stunt performer/cool person. She is best known for her work with 3-time CCA nominated sketch troupe Hot Thespian Action but has also hit the stage in such theatrical delights as Death of a Salesman (WJT) and The Miser of Middlegate (TPM/Zone41). Shannon’s love for physical comedy carries into her work as a stunt performer, where you can watch her getting punched in the face in such TV shows as Todd and the Book of Pure Evil (Space Network) or bracing the fall of Christmas trees as seen in Home Alone 5 (Fox Television Studio). Over the past few years, Shannon has focused her spare time on teaching mime/physical theatre to the Deaf community and has been mentoring them in creating their own troupe 100 Decibels.
It may be hard to believe, but Garth has been acting for over 20 years. Apart from his involvement with Hot Thespian Action, Garth’s work has included such diverse endeavours as TV acting (Burden of Truth, The Pinkertons, Don Cherry 2), film acting (Borealis, Nomis, Radius), and stunt work (The Haunting in Connecticut, A Dog’s Purpose). If you’re looking for a REAL laugh, track down a movie called The Plague and watch James Vanderbeek shoot Garth in the face. In his spare time Garth works as a graphic designer, designing things like… Well…. Everything you’re looking at right now.
It is clear Ryan has the ability to make people laugh, having appeared in comedies Beethoven Saves Christmas (Universal) and My Awkward Sexual Adventure, alongside his work with Hot Thespian Action. But Ryan’s solo stage career has taken a more dramatic turn. Ryan’s stage credits include The Glass Menagerie, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, and Gone with the Wind (RMTC), Buyer and Cellar (WJT), and the critically acclaimed production of Angels in America: Parts 1 and 2 (WJT) in the role of Prior. Most recently Ryan appeared in Daniel MacIvor’s The Best Brothers performed in West Vancouver, Prince George and Kamloops, British Columbia.
Jane is a collector of troupes. As well as HTA, she performs with the musical improv troupe Outside Joke, and as a member of the Fufu ChiChi Choir. She has appeared in productions with Prairie Theatre Exchange (Little Munsch on the Prairie, Munschbusters) , Théâtre du Grand Cercle (De Bouche à Oreille), Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park With George as part of the MTC Master Playwright Festival and Noël Coward’s Private Lives (RMTC). Jane wrote sketch comedy for CBC Radio from 2008 to 2013 and was also known as a modern etiquette expert with her radio column “Miss Conduct”. Jane is currently the host for the CBC Comedy Factory Podcast.
Founding member Jacquie Loewen has left to focus on her own career. But her DNA is and will always be all over the group. Just ask any black light.
As Winnipeg’s current go-to fight director, she has choreographed slaps, punches and swordfights etc. for every professional theatre company in Winnipeg, as well as working in cities around the province, and at Canadian Stage in Toronto.
In the Operatic world, Jacqueline has assistant directed at Manitoba Opera and Vancouver Opera, and personally directed several independent productions with Manitoba Underground Opera as well as The Little Opera Company. Directing/creating her own — less comedic? — work in devised theatre with a strong physical base (The Fisherman and His Soul, and La Belle Laide-nominated for the Harry S. Rintoul award for best new play Fringe 2014) has been a great artistic outlet as well. She served as assistant director on the world premier of a new Canadian play, Shakespeare’s Rebel with Bard on the Beach in Vancouver, summer of 2015.
Jacqueline also works as an actor on stage, film and television, and as stunt performer. She has taught workshops at Brandon University, University of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba’s Contemporary Opera Lab, and for Humber Collage’s devised theatre program.