Improvisation sessions provides comedic relief during stressful lockdown
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But since the arrival of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown this was no longer possible as live shows and theatre productions have been banned for the foreseeable future.
While this has left scores of performers out of work, it has also meant that theatre enthusiasts were left with limited forms of entertainment - and all in the confines of their own homes.
This, and the lack of comedic relief being offered to stressed-out South Africans during the global pandemic, has also forced Johannesburg theatre company POPArt theatre to think outside of the box.
They decided that their once closed improv sessions - a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment - should be open to the public for free online.
This made it possible for people from all walks of life to view the show as all that is required is internet access and free online registration for a ticket.
The first of these live shows was streamed live on Zoom and Facebook last week, with the latest debuting on Wednesday.
Hayleigh Evans, one of the founders of the independent POPArt theatre, explained that these shows have been such a hit that even people from outside South Africa were tuning in, and the audience pleading for more content.
“We had over 100 live viewers when we had our first session and the audience asked us at the end of the show to do it again, so we did,” she said.
“We had people from SA, the UK, US, Germany, Austria and Australia in the last audience.”
Evans, who is the master of ceremonies, mic controller and co technical director for the improv performances is no stranger to this kind of theatre performance.
“I have been using improv as part of my practice for many years and honestly can’t speak highly enough of all the incredible things it instils both for performing and for surviving as a human being.
“The key rule of improv is: ‘SAY YES!’ - that’s about not resisting and about moving forward.”
She added it can only benefit performers who, as a result of the spread of the coronavirus, are being forced to adapt to a new world.
“I think that’s part of how our business and how our improv group are dealing with this critical transition for performing artists,” she said.
“We aren’t trying to fight what’s happening, but rather are looking at what opportunities this can give us moving forward.”
But while the virtual world is new terrain for those at the POPArt Theatre, Evans insists that the digital realm has not only given them a platform to showcase their work, but also reaches more people than what is possible in a theatre.
“What is cool about the digital space is that the audience is so vast and people can share the info with their networks around the world so you don’t feel like you are exhausting a good thing.”
Evans is also a firm believer in laughter being the best medicine during these unprecedented times.
“I think laughter is a great stress reliever, particularly in times where people may feel powerless or inert.”
She also believes that this kind of entertainment makes it possible for an audience to feel as if they are a part of the production.
“Improv is really special because there is an element of participation, so in a way, the audience can feel active in the making of the show and that feels quite important right now.”
Evans added that the POPArt Theatre is excited to explore further impromptu performance methods.
“As a platform, POPArt is interested in creating virtual work with live performers that will ultimately strengthen a live performance audience when we can all get back into a room together.
“We are looking at the best ways to adapt parts of our programme that can translate into the virtual space without causing long term brand damage for theatre.”