Monday 25 November 2013

Thought of the Day: Improv is easy

Improv is the easiest thing in the world. You just have to fight your ego and overcome thousands of years of social conditioning to let it happen.

Dancing With Myself

A little time back, Take One had its premiere. It’s a solo show idea I’d had a good few moons ago. I explained it in an earlier post saying it was less of a format than a concept. Basically, to recreate a movie in a genre given by the audience. In essence it’s nothing new whatsoever. It’s pretty much what 3 For All (and others) have been doing for ages but with one person. In fact, the great Canadian improv nomad, Ryan Millar, came up with an idea which is remarkably similar which premiered the same week.

But although the broad idea is the same with all these groups, the execution of it – the unwritten rules of engagement that you find out during rehearsal and performance, what you ask from the audience, how you use that, how much emphasis you put on furthering the story versus exploring where you are, the devices you use for furthering the story, the archetypes, character types and story arcs you draw from – all these and more – will vary widely for each group and individual.

It’s somewhat like the concept that the singer and not the song that makes a song (actually it’s a combination, plus the band is a pretty big help and the producer often invaluable). It makes me think of a thought experiment – I would love to give exactly the same script to 3 wildly different directors and 3 different casts and see how different the films end up being. Very, very different, I’m certain.

For me it’s exciting to find a way of really using all the hours of my life I’ve spent watching movies and obsessing over genres. It’s justified those times I’d stop revising for exams in the middle of the night to watch some obscure classic from 1932 that was being shown at 3 am. (I guess you should expect my next format to be based on Angry Birds or Twitter.)

The first outing of Take One featured, as a warm-up, the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally as it would be in an Irish gangster movie and the Ezekiel scene from Pulp Fiction as a Christian Family Cartoon. These worked with varying success but more than proved the concept.

And then the meat of the thing was a time travel disaster movie set in Victorian London with a request for Zombies. I hadn’t intended the genre to have so many elements but the audience was divided and you can’t argue with an audience once you’ve told them it’s up to them. But it worked pretty damn well, if I say so myself.

The next outing will be in January 2014 with a condensed version appearing at the IMPRO Amsterdam 2014 festival (in a double bill with Ryan's format, so you can compare and contrast).

I’ll definitely be doing a lot more of this. I and it are available for festivals, parades and conventions.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

The BIG IF - Barcelona Improv Festival Nov 2013

The first international Barcelona Improv Festival was where I was at last week. It was a big paella of super fun and great improv. I have come back with a lot of exciting formats, techniques and approaches to analyze. It was great to see some old friends and make many new ones. Some (but not all) of whom I manage to name-check (or name-drop?) below.

Old friends:
Lamabati from Israel, who in their show created a great world before the lights had even gone up. And then once they were up, proceed to build on it and make a truly fun story.
Jstar from Atlanta, who I think is a manifestation of some joyful, mischievous deity.
Several of the Estonians I met in Finland who have really leapt up several levels in their playing.
Noah Levin, co-organiser of the festival and one of the movers in the Barcelona scene.
BIL from Belgium who were not there as a group, but managed to sneak a super fun show in anyway.
I look forward to seeing and playing with all of them more.
I should also thank my fellow easylaughians who had a great show. It’s always fun playing with you guys.
easylaughs by Alessio Carone

New friends:
It was great to see how high the level is in Barcelona. They all have good energy, play really intelligently and have great presence.
Impro Acatomba, a local Catalan group, confidently took to the stage with three of their number and joyfully created fun scenes based on genres with some extra difficulties.
It was so nice to meet Heather Urquhart and Joe Samuel (of The Maydays, UK), who reminded me (amongst other things) that choruses should not be big and clever but simple and direct. It was also fab to have the whole festival underscored and generally lifted aurally by the genius fingers of Mr Samuel.
It was awesome to meet and see Mike Brown, a lovely man who did a really solid solo show based on the family of an audience member.
The French team, Lilyade from Lyon, performed a wonderful longform, with elements of farce, mime and soap opera, inhabited with characters with real emotional depth and drive.
Do Not Adjust Your Stage, from London, gave us a set of great scenes which owed a lot to the great British sketch tradition of strong characters in strong situations.
ImprovBoston Allstars headlined and created a high-paced show with an astounding array of edits and ways of taking one scene into another. They masterly brought back themes and situations, weaving them together to create a huge fun knot at the end. They also happily messed with each other.

Thanks to everybody I met and remet in Barcelona. So many wonderful individuals. Everyone who entertained and supported me on and off stage. Enough superlatives. To the next festival.