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MONDAY nights are traditionally Theatresports nights at The Intimate Theatre in town, but the ImproGuise are spreading their wings.
A trip last year to an improv festival – Improvention – in Canberra, Australia, turned into a life-changing event for artistic director Tandi Buchan and ImproGuise senior member Candice D’Arcy when they took part in workshops that delved into the long form of improvisation.
If Theatresports is the short form best typified by the TV series Whose Line is it Anyway?, then the long form would be what Judd Apatow did with 40-Year-Old Virgin when he provided a setting and created characters around a plot and then captured the actors improvising their lines and actions.
Improv only works when the practitioner totally understands the artform and then responds in the moment; in the case of Theatresports it is comedy on a Monday night. But, what D’Arcy saw at Improvention, especially the long form film noir drama, was very different: “It was some hectic stuff. People got beaten up and it was gritty.”
“It’s not comedy but story- driven, with intricate characters and it’s absolutely improvised,” explained D’Arcy.
They attended workshops during the day which weren’t just an eye-opener, but provided extreme inspiration. They also presented a workshop, teaching non-verbal techniques that don’t rely on words.
“They rely a lot on wordplay and puns,” D’Arcy said about Australian improv artists. “I was surprised and relieved that we were of a high standard in comparison, considering how isolated our improv artists are.
“We all got cast in shows and had opportunities to perform and it was completely re-invigorating and inspiring,” she said about South African improv artists who get around the multiple languages used in the country by relying more on physical performance to get the message across.
Improv is big on team work. “You have to make everyone look good,” explained Buchan.
She said they immediately started working on the new methodology in August last year and tried it out in October when they did a 12-hour long soap-a-thon, during which they improvised eight soapie episodes and raised R12 000.
“That worked, but we would’ve liked to give Rape Crisis even more money,” Buchan said.
D’Arcy said they wanted to turn the Soap-a-thon into an annual event and eventually extend the time.
“It was a huge accomplishment for the group. People were very scared and 12 hours was a compromise. In Australia they just did a 56-hour session.
“You start passing through portals of reality after a while. It’s like you don’t remember what you just did,” explained Buchan.
D’Arcy said research was important for the process of long form improv: “The most important thing is to find characters that are truthful, to create relationships, emotions and connections. It’s not about sending up the style, which is what we do in the short form. Long form uses stock characters.”
She will direct the Western section which means she chooses who plays what characters and is in charge of overall development of the “big picture”.
“The actors fill in the colour and the director makes sure they stay within the lines,” explained D’Arcy.
Perforce they don’t use many props because they are not sure what will happen on stage from one given minute to the next.
“Everything is 100 percent made up,” D’Arcy said.
Buchan is in charge of the Austen night and will start off by giving the actors’ names and setting the scene.
“Maybe there’ll be a little bit of props and devices like letter writing. Lots of meaningful glances and letter writing,” she mused.
Since there are four men and 12 women as the permanent members of Improguise, all the guys will be taking part in the Western and Austen scenes, while the women get to alternate.
Buchan said they would love to host a similar convention to the Australian one at some point in the future, but first they need to work on growing both the audience and number of improv performers in the country.
This coming festival at Kalk Bay is a way to introduce Capetonians to the longer form of improv and work on building their audience and capacity and they will present their next set of workshops after the festival. They are also starting a more experimental cabaret form of improv at the Alexander Bar Theatre on the last Thursday of every month.
“Overseas they do theatresports competitions and classes and school and when they grow up they’re our players and audiences. So there’s a lot to be done,” Buchan said.
THE IMPROV FESTIVAL
Runs until February 9 at 8pm at the Kalk Bay Theatre
The Tuesday night regular: TheatreSports for the die-hard, short-form improv fans;
Wednesday Westerns: A full-on Western, in two parts, all made up and as exciting as a posse on pursuit;
Thursdays at Thornton Hall: Devoted to the delicate expression of feelings, love, marriage and money in the most civilised and mannered style of Jane Austen;
Friday Family Musicals: The perfect time for the family to get a dose of improv, made up and sung, too. Garth Tavares will provide a piano soundtrack, depending on what is suggested by the audience;
Super Scene Saturdays: Competitive, skilled and expertly executed improv, in which directors create their scenes, pitch new ideas to the audience and only the most brilliant one survives. Completely ruthless because the directors compete against each other for audience votes.