Saturday 19 February 2011

Impro Thought of the Day: "Be Bold, Be Free, Be Truthful" – Brenda Ueland

"Be Bold, Be Free, Be Truthful."
– Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write, 1938

Sunday 13 February 2011

Amsterdam International Improv Festival pt 5: Transformations

The continuing list of things that stood out for me at the 16th Amsterdam International Improv Festival

How one scene transforms into another is fascinating to me. The world of film has developed scores of ways of taking us from one scene to another and is always looking for the next new technique. In improv, there are about three different ways to change from one scene to another in general use. But we can take our lead from films as we do with genres and themes and try to find interesting ways to jump from one scene to another. Often films use a connecting object or theme to link scenes. For example one scene ends with the camera focusing on a vase of flowers and the next starts focused on a different vase. In improv our objects are air, but we can do the same thing with people and noises and themes and actions.

A good example at the festival on Wednesday was where one actor was the connection between three scenes, being 2 previously-established characters in the first and third scene, and a poster of a boy-band member in between. The lessons well demonstrated here are: make it clear quickly and right at the top what the next scene is and which character the actor that is remaining is to play. It's a bold play, but it's the sort of thing that makes even seasoned players go, "wow."

Thursday 10 February 2011

Amsterdam International Improv Festival pt 4: Inspiration

This is my continuing exploration of the things of interest I saw at the 16th Amsterdam International Improv Festival. This is a week-long series of shows featuring performers from all over the world and around the corner. It's one of the best-organised of all improv festivals, from what I gather; and it's certainly a high-point on the local improv calendar.

I always enjoy seeing and learning from the various different styles of the different groups and individuals from often very far-flung places. Every group and country has a different approach, a different interpretation, a different attitude; these are very interesting and educational to see.

My only real quibble about the festival is that, in general, it's run more for the performers than the audience. I enjoy the shows most when an established group comes and does what it does best; what it's been doing for years. Increasingly less groups are invited and instead more individuals. This does make the festival more international (i.e. more countries represented) and offers more networking options for the performers, but for the audience it means they miss out on groups presenting their specialty that they've worked on together for years.

That's not to say there is nothing to learn from individuals, but because of the collaborative nature of improv, I always learn most from watching a group do their thing than individuals each doing their own thing.

The highlight of the festival for me was no surprise. On Wednesday the only well-established group that was invited and given the chance to do their own thing on their own had their show. The National Theatre of the World (who all come from Canada) improvised a full Woody Allen play. It was a textbook example of what two people who play a lot together can achieve. People who are committed to telling the story through realistic, three dimensional characters unspoilt by all that gagging, goofing and showing off that blights a lot of improv. It was nothing short of awesome. Something for us all to aim for. In fact it's the aim of my new group, The Ad Libertines. More on them in the near future.

Friday 4 February 2011

Amsterdam International Improv Festival pt 3: Recovery

This is the third part in a series of things that stood out for me at the 16th Amsterdam International Improv Festival last week.

From festival picasa account

The second show on Tuesday was multinational duo The Banzai Twins. This had some great moments and they allowed themselves to have genuinely heart-felt scenes without losing faith and falling into gags. The biggest hiccup in the show was a scene were each player started with a completely different idea. So the scene was then all about one actor convincing his partner she was playing a new character when she had already started playing her established character, with the result that the second player left the stage calling "confusing!" There are obvious lessons in that, but their recovery was brilliant.

They redid the scene in a Japanese theatre style (in a mixture of real Japanese and Japanese gibberish). This time there was fighting and the internal struggle between the actors seemed to get played out as an external fight in which the guy was stabbed to death. This somewhat exorcised the demon of the bad scene and with the guy now leaving the stage calling "confusing!" which not only showed that things had been reversed but established the word "confusion!" as a small running theme. The idea to redo the scene was an impulse and the fighting, I think, wasn't planned as a metaphor for the inner fighting but part of the genre they were replaying in, but is shows that if you let the subconscious free, it'll often do great things. Whilst I believe we have a higher tolerance for mistakes in improv than we ought, and no way want to encourage people to be blasé about them, we should know that when they occur, we should not ignore them or try to hide them; we should embrace them, deal with them, but not let them derail us from where we need to be going.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Amsterdam International Improv Festival pt 2: Inner Thoughts

This is the second part in a series of things that stood out for me at the 16th Amsterdam International Improv Festival

which was last week.

Watching the Banzai Twins on Tuesday, there was a great reminder that inner thoughts provided by other players don't have to be expressed purely in words from off stage or over the shoulder. The player(s) expressing those thoughts can move as they do so, and so illustrate the emotion with movement. In fact they can do so without any words whatsoever and just depict the emotion in sound and/or movement.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Amsterdam International Improv Festival pt 1: Theatricality

This is the first part in a series of things that stood out for me at the 16th Amsterdam International Improv Festival.

Tuesday: Theatricality
Often in improv we forget that we have a god-like control of physics on stage and that we can use this and the audience's cinematic literacy to great effect. One great example of this was a fight scene between two boxers (played by the guys from Cia. Barbixas de Humor from Brazil), where both of them stood apart, facing the audience. And despite seemingly not being able to clearly see each other, each punch received the appropriate reaction and both went into slow motion at exactly the same moment.

Photo from

Another example of using cinematic literacy was a girl (played by Yuri Kinugawa of Japan) in a wheelchair (which, as ever in improv, was played by a regular chair). But instead of the usual, chair being scraped and awkwardly jerked around the stage as the character moves, the chair remained static and because we saw the girl move the wheel and she was the focus of our attention, we accepted her not moving and accepted that it was the background that was moving, which was easy as it wasn't really there in the first place. The fact she was alone on stage at the time, made it easier. But I could see, with a lot of awareness and a little bit of practice, that the chair never need move and even turning with a dozen people in the room, could be achieved by the people moving, not the chair.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Impro Thought of the Day: There is no such thing as "nothing." - Matthieu Loos

What does that mean? "Nothing" is an artificial construct invented by mathematicians. It does not exist in theatrical terms. Stillness and silence are NOT nothing. A pause is not a period of nothing but a powerful dramatic tool. Purposeful stillness can be fascinating.