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By The Improvisors
Part of NZ International Comedy Festival
The Improvisors are back at Circa with another season of this very popular show. Each night two teams of Improvisors take suggestions from the audience and spin them into short scenes, songs, poems or whatever else takes their fancy. Each show is completely different – what does stay the same is that Theatresports is always a great night’s entertainment for the whole family. We don’t know what ideas you are going to throw at us – we do know that our kind of improv magic has been keeping audiences laughing over many years. Theatresports – putting the “make up” on stage.
SMALL MIRACLES ABOUND
Reviewed by John Smythe, 4 May 2015
It was in the summer of 1968-69 that director Ian Mune introduced ‘Yes Games’ to an actors’ workshop in Wellington. He had played with this new concept of improvisation, which counterpointed the received wisdom that ‘drama is conflict’, with Keith Johnstone at the Welsh National Theatre. It would take another decade for Johnstone to formalise it as Theatresports, in Calgary, Canada.
Theatresports was well-established as popular entertainment in Sydney and Melbourne by the time Wellington’s first Theatresports workshops were held in 1987. Teams formed and the next year the first Paragon Cup was contested at the James Cabaret. In 1989 ‘Otherwise Fine’ took out the National Theatresports Championship for Wellington and in 1990 The Improvisors was formed as a company and granted the NZ rights to Theatresports.
Now, after 25 years largely sustained by corporate entertainment gigs, they are celebrating their Silver Jubilee with classic Theatresports competitions over seven weeks of Sundays at Circa Theatre, culminating in a gala performance on 14 June that will also feature their past stars, returning from around New Zealand and the World.
There are many improv groups active in Wellington and around New Zealand now, and a range of formats have been developed. But for practitioners and audiences alike, getting back to basics with Theatresports is like working out at the gym: dynamic, challenging and refreshing. The crucial involvement of audiences in responding to ‘ask-fors’ the monitoring the success or otherwise of the result, adds greatly to the entertainment factor.
This season’s opener, rigorously MCd by Deana, pits The Savvy Blanks (Tim, Kenny, Satori and Pete) against Ghetto Boys 3000 (Ian, Simon and Jimmy), abetted by Cam on keys, Tony on lights and Theo as the scorekeeper.
Death By Story is an ideal warm-up, involving everyone in establishing and developing a story seamlessly as the MC points randomly at whoever must pick it up, often mid-sentence. When anyone stumble we call out “Die!” and they drop out. We give them Jonathan who likes to sing and he ends up thrashing out Heavy Metal in his bedroom until a tiger crashes into his bed.
Alphabet challenges each team to improvise a scene where every line of dialogue must start with a successive letter of the alphabet. The ‘ask for’ produces a coal-mining scenario. Despite growing a splendid story about a consumptive old man sending his nine year-old son down the pit, The Savvy Blanks default on a couple of letters.
Ghetto Boys 3000 are challenged with a variation whereby their scene – involving a work colleague with bad breath – must play out with speeches limited to a specific number of words, as dictated by the MC. Somehow the halitosis-plagued colleague, working on a manual typewriter (!), turns out to be the company’s CEO. They score well but are penalised for swearing – in front of children!
Given a Free Choice, The Savvy Blanks opt for “A quirky party endowment thing” whereby Tim leaves the room (accompanied by an audience member) while the audience endows Kenny with being an Accountant, Pete with being a Gazelle and Satori with suffering great Frustration. Tim returns to welcome them to his party and as the chit-chat progresses, he has to divine the endowments. Pete’s prancing Gazelle is the highlight but it’s the Frustration, which comes over more as anger, which stumps Tim. 2/3.
Papers is the choice of Ghetto Boys 3000. The MC spread bits of paper containing random lines of dialogue, never before seen by the players, around the floor. The ask-for tells them they are three flatmates confronting an unpaid rent issue, and in the process of dealing with that they must pick up and incorporate the random lines.
The MC’s Challenge Round is called Team Switch. Each team must continue the scene whenever she calls “Switch!” Simply given a beach as their environment, a rather poetic scene evolves involving people, whales and seagulls. Even as they drown, in turn, their metamorphoses into spirit whales is somehow beautiful. The second scenario, involving a quest for diamonds, gets rather confused when players are unclear as to whether others are female or very camp, but the reverse Pygmalion outcome saves the scene for me.
After interval, Subtracting Characters is applied to The Princess and the Pea and becomes especially interesting when the Princess is subtracted.Dramatic Chord only allows players to make eye-contact – indeed they must – when a dramatic chord is played by Cam, and here a princess on a beach turns out to be in Vietnam and the scene climaxes with a Dance of Death.
An asked-for Physical Restriction saddles Ghetto Boys 3000 with the loss of a head. Their scene, played out in Shakespearean style, involves a decapitated king whose capacity to wear his crown is miraculously rehabilitated in the end. Special credit to Ian for his ability to improvise rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter.
The Savvy Blanks opt for not being able to move unless worked puppet-like by members of the audience, and a couple – Peter and Tina – are co-opted to make them re-enact the moment they fell for each other, while fishing from a boat in Paeroa (which is landlocked so maybe they were on a dam up the back of the farm).
That each team is a good match for the other is proved by Ghetto Boys 3000 beating The Savvy Blanks by just half a point (19-18.5).
That so many highly entertaining scenarios – albeit brief and never to be repeated – can be conjured out of thin air by people whose major skill is to listen to each other, accept what is offered and build on it with alacrity, still rates as small miracles to me.