Monday 29 January 2018

IMPRO Amsterdam 2018 - T to the hursday

Tonight there was an extra early show from the Brazilian mime group doing their living statues show. There are not many improv shows where you get painted from head to toe before you go on stage.

The main presentation got started with Dogville. This is an improvised adaptation of the movie by Lars von Trier. It's the one where the set budget only stretched to some chalk. Also the actors had no trailers and had to be on set the whole time even in scenes not about them. The original movie is in the genre of harsh drama; This was definitely lighter.

Downward Facing Dogville. (Photo by Mathieu vd Berk)
As far as I'm aware this is the only Lars von Trier movie to have inspired improv shows. I’m still keenly waiting for the formats Nymphomaniac and Antichrist.

After the break, North Coast from New York took the stage. North Coast do a thing called hip hop improv. It's exactly what it sounds like it is. The energy they bring to the stage, the rhythmicality, the sheer scale of commitment is exhilarating. They do scenes and games that lead into or somehow involve music. They are not only versatile within the reasonably broad category of rap / hip hop but also jump into other styles too. What really sets them apart from other improv groups who may do music is that they bring with them two world-class beatboxers. What Kaila and Mark can do with their voices will blow your mind. At this moment, I can’t imagine doing a show without a beatboxer in it.

Northcoast in the Haunted House (Photo by Mathieu vd Berk)
Tonight the late night shows were The Ghost Sheep from Brussels with The Fortune Teller where an audience member has their future predicted / improvised; and the sensitive Dutch men from Broos. The Ghost Sheep told the future of one of the beatboxers because, well, every show needs a beatboxer.

The Ghost Sheep Need Ewe!
Broos - the brooding bass-backed boys of improv.

Saturday 27 January 2018

IMPRO Amsterdam 2018 - Tales from the Garage

Flicker is a format by Katie and Chris of Project2 and one I was lucky enough to be in. The simple explanation is that half the scenes are played in the dark and the other half in the light. The scenes without light force you to use sound to create radio plays or soundscapes. They also hopefully remind you to be more physical in the scenes where people can see you. It certainly produced some fun scenes and made for a show with a strong visual identity.

Scene with the lights on (Photo by John Mabey)

The second half was given over to Dad’s Garage. Dad’s Garage are a theatre with a good reputation based in Atlanta in the US. What do they make in Dad’s Garage? Well, lots of things, but tonight two of them showed us Working Title, which is an improvised Hollywood movie. Using the language of movie scripts to help paint and link the scenes, they get a description of a hero from the audience and two very different locations and launch themselves into if. Our hero then somehow gets from the first location to the second one, far from home and what he knows. They hit all of the beats of a good script and clearly know their movie structure. So the show has a well-structured story with some action, a little romance, camera pans and a satisfying end where everyone feels good. But it’s all done with a ton of confidence and a lot of fun, discovering the story as they go and following the twists to their conclusion.
Lights on, cameras on, actions (photo by John Mabey)
After the main shows, there were 2 options as previously:

In one room, most of the cast of the main stage shows ganged up and threw down a show. It was basically a talented bunch of friends putting on a show simply for the joy of what they do.

In the other room, BAFNI from Scooby Doo, I mean BAFNI the Vampire Slayer, I mean BAFNI from The Czech Republic performed. They took stories from themselves and the audience to inspire them in all directions.

I know I promised lots of gossip, but I think everyone is too sleep deprived to cause scandal, or I’m too sleep deprived to notice it. All I can say is that in the green room there is a teddy bear groupie that partied way too hard this week.

Fight's on! (photo by John Mabey)

IMPRO Amsterdam 2018 - Mardi

Tuesday night began with The Ghost of Love, a format where 4 couples go on 4 very different romantic journeys. For each couple, two “ghosts” control them, mock them, add atmosphere, emotions and plot points. The ghosts leave the actors free to play the characters and situations and not worry too much (or anything) about the story, which is always helpful for an actor.

Ghosts, Actually. (photo by Robin Straaijer)

The resulting show was somehow very cinematic, touching and filled with metaphor and symbolism. The fact that all 4 paths were very different made this feel like a written piece. The paths were not just a new couple getting together, but an established couple getting over a rocky patch and a couple who has always been together who never experienced a bump, but were still a joy to watch. The fourth couple got together, but it didn’t work out, and this, more than anything, made it a well-rounded show. None of this, four neat, happy endings mulch. And seeing the characters in their couples (or not) in the final moments, dampened many a nasolacrimal duct.

L'Action (photo by Robin Straaijer)
From the joy and heartache of love, we moved on to the joy of joy. La Carpe Haute are from Strasbourg in the bit of France everyone thinks is in Germany. They do physical theatre with a ton of mime, clowning and plenty of heart and soul. If there is an object needed, they will not hesitate to demonstrate or be that object - whatever it is to make sure you know what that object is. There is never doubt. And even that object, no matter what it is, exudes joy. They love to play, they clearly love each other and they commit to whatever they discover about 104%.

To cap off the evening, there was a choice between two solo shows:

Las Vegas I Gave You My Heart (Photo by John Mabey)
The Laser Comedy Show by Chris Fair is comic book drawn right in front of you with the addition of sound. You’ll find comic books pretty lame after this.

The alternative was Trudy Carmichael Presents: The Improvised One-Woman Show, in which Robin Rothman plays a Las Vegas legend telling the improvised story of her life and career in between songs.

Lasers or divas, sometimes in life you have to choose between the two.

Thursday 25 January 2018

IMPRO Amsterdam 2018 - Opening night

Festivals should begin with a bang. That is unless you running The International Festival of Slow Fades, or Disappointed! The Festival for Mismanaged Expectations. (Both of which are great festivals, but I’ll discuss them another time I absolutely promise. Honest.) But this festival went for the tradition of bangular openings.

This show is the first chance for the general public to really see the ensemble cast. For this first show, everyone performed in their original teams. Each team has a show of their own later in the week. Except the Dutch who were only assembled as a team for this festival and are merely along for the ride. It's a kind of taster for the whole week.

(Also there is another team with a main-stage show that is not part of the ensemble, but I won’t mention that now to keep from confusing you. It’s Dad’s Garage.)

Each team showed off a bit of their style and were then given a second challenge to pay homage to another team, which got Americans being Australians, Australians being Dutch and the Dutch rapping. What could possibly go wrong?


The second half of the show was given over to Project2 an English duo who improvise in the style of science fiction. It is fair to say they kicked the ball straight out of the stratosphere. A lot of improvised science fiction is goofy, soulless, gadget-obsessed parody. (Actually a fair few movies are too.) Katie and Chris (who are the current incarnation of Project2) are doing this out of love and respect. They know their science fiction. They might mock it, but they do it with love. They can find the funny, but they are not afraid to be truthful and their commitment cannot be questioned. The stories they weave and eventually manage to tie together contain so much human truth, that the end was a veritable burst of joy.

And all this with a superbly atmospheric live soundtrack by one half of noughties electronica duo Lemon Jelly.
Zombie vs Sentry Drone

Night at the Museum of Stories
After most of the shows this week, there is a choice of 2 late night shows. Firstly, there were Brazilian living statues with Museum of Stories. Yes those actual living statues you find in most big cities on the streets near the most touristy of spots were brought into theatres to be both statues and actors in scenes. Any improviser who has ever had to try and be still on stage for more than 1 minute can learn a lot from these guys.

And secondly there was some “playback theatre” from local group, Wordt Vervolgd (which means To Be Continued). Playback theatre is where the audience tells their stories and these are then recreated or interpreted on stage for fun or therapy.

In all a great official first night. Well up there with the opening night of Bangfest IV: The Bangening.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

IMPRO Amsterdam 2018 - Secret Preshow

A festival the size of IMPRO Amsterdam doesn’t just happen because of the efforts of one person. There are scores of people who help make the magic happen. From the artistic team who decide which teams come to the people who wash the dishes after the performers have eaten. (Yes, this festival provides food for the performers. I know, right!)

As many of these volunteers as can fit in the chosen venue (about 50) are rewarded with an extra free show where they get to see the newly assembled team show what they can do. It’s a very nice pre-actual festival show. A time to really play with your new friends but without the pressure of a show in a 220-seater theatre.

And house spirit makes three.
The players were divided into two groups, spreading each of the national teams as evenly as possible between them. Each group played for 40 or so minutes. Showing off the mixed skills, styles, heights and accents of the cast. It’s hard to remember scenes in shows you were in, but from what I recall there were scenes about how accommodating French hairdressers can be to uncomprehending foreigners; haunted hotels where you can probably never leave; the difficulty of finding pets that will stick around; waiters caught between a hard chef and a gang of customers; the complexities and absurdities of negotiating a shoe shine; and the importance of light-switch positioning when taunting light-fearing demons. All very valuable lessons in life.

You actually can'r even check out anytime you want.
There was definitely a lot of not just playing well together but the joy of playing together on display. It all ended with a huge dance number including much of the audience, which, being almost entirely made up of improvisers, was more than will to join in.

It’s already uberfun and it’s not officially started.


Sunday 21 January 2018

IMPRO Amsterdam 2018 - The cast meet the cast

Drawing the teams from 5 countries (over 3 continents), the men and women behind the organisation of the festival have pulled together an awesome, diverse team of players. There are Hip Hoppers from New York, Science Fictioneers from London, Com├ędiens physiques de Strasbourg and a couple of talented sheilas out of Melbourne.

These, with 6 Dutch (and adoptive Dutch) players, form the main stage cast for this year’s festival. There are other players doing the more specialised late-night shows and adding to the number of countries and continents, but I’ll talk more about these later.

Some of these people had met before, but many had not. They arrived as several different-shaped containers of talent, and the first stages of mixing them together and making them a team began Saturday, with a dinner and a chance to play together.

Dutch bikes after the storm.
“Familiarity breeds content” is an old adage in improv that I just invented. And so this was a chance for the players to get to know each other, both as players and as people. The more you know and like someone, generally, the better you perform together. It’s true. Try performing with someone you just met who you hate. It’s really difficult. Everything they say is so stupid.

After the foundations of the team were built, the next, more powerful method of bringing people together took place. Dinner! Food unites people. The communal breaking of bread (or, in this case, pizza base), is guaranteed to bring people closer together. Unless for some reason they like Brussels sprouts, in which case everything they eat is so stupid.

Also, there was alcohol. Everything that goes for food, goes for alcohol (except the effects are quicker but much shorter lasting).

After all of this there was a chance to perform for each other and see some of the skills these kids have brought to town. Oh, man, are you in for a great festival!

Saturday 20 January 2018

IMPRO Amsterdam 2018 - introduction (not that it needs one)

In September last year, Theatersportvereningenamsterdam (TVA), organised a kind of knock-out competition to find who is the team to represent the Netherlands in this year’s IMPRO Amsterdam. The various gods of comedy smiled on me that night and I am to be part of the 6-strong cast of funny people who next week will, as they say, represent.

For those of you who don’t know IMPRO Amsterdam, shame on you. But, it doesn’t matter, it will happen without you knowing about it. And even if you know nothing about it, it doesn’t really need an introduction, all you need to know about it is in the title. And certainly if you use it’s full title, “Improvised Comedy Festival Amsterdam The Netherlands 2018.” (Which in Dutch would be “Improvisatiekomedietheaterfestivalamsterdamnederlandtweeduizendachttien” (IKTFANTTA).)

As last year, I intend to blog every day about the festival. This time from an insider’s perspective. As a performer at the festival. I’ll give my impression of the highlights, the lowlights, and the midlights. I’ll give you the low down, the goss, and the words from the streets. I give you as much as I can before I fall asleep through sheer exhaustion, because it’s quite a full-on week.

So, if you can’t make the festival, keep reading and live it through these words and occasional pictures. If you can make the festival, still keep reading and see if you agree with my twisted view of what happened. And if you are involved in making the festival happen, keep reading as all this is dedicated to you.
The Dutch cast: Jochem, Sven, Nardje, Huib, Nicole, and
Myself (winning the goofiest expression competition).