Serious side to making it up

IMPROVISATION is not a casual thing, these days it’s a serious artistic business, according to Impro Theatre ACT’s artistic director Nick Byrne, who’s been leading the movement here for six years.

Artistic director Nick Byrne... organising a slap-up international improvisation festival at The Street Theatre.

To prove it, he’s organising a slap-up international improvisation festival called “Improvention” at The Street Theatre.

With funding from artsACT, he’s hosting international performers and directors such as Randy Dixon from Seattle and Felipe Ortiz from Columbia.

The second festival of its kind, it will run over six nights of advanced-skills workshops and nights of public performances.

And it’s not just “Theatresports” short-form improvisation.

But even that was never what it seemed, Byrne explains. For the inventor of Theatresports, Keith Johnstone, hit on the concept after seeing entertainment wrestling, in which performers are really collaborating with each other, though to audiences they seem to be in competition.

So in the great “North v South Theatresports” battle in May over which side of Lake Burley Griffin is better, there was a good deal of camaraderie.

At The Street, there will be long and short-form impros and sometimes both.

In “The Gift”, improvisations will be drawn together to make a 50-minute piece by Melbourne improviser/director Marko Mustac, where each performer must bring something to “gift” to other improvisers.

Swedish improvisation master Per Gottfredsson will take on a serious challenge by training a group in how to produce a 50-minute work in the style of Strindberg.

Other ventures include a  rock opera, which will grow out of a half-day long workshop with Melbourne director Tim Redmond, three musicians and, when eventually performed as a long, sung-through musical, a cast of around eight, some who have only just completed a term of classes. “Suddenly they’ll be taken to a new level,” Byrne says.

So what kinds of Canberrans like to improvise? Byrne says: “We endeavour to get as many people from as many environments to improvise.”
Improvisers are not usually conventional actors. The vast majority are public servants, lawyers and teachers.

Byrne and his colleagues have been studying the psychological and workplace benefits of joining in: it’s fun, like stand-up comedy; and it breeds confidence. A third of the people who sign up for classes will stay for the long-term and become impro addicts.

There’s an  unexpected side benefit, says Byrne – selfless behaviour. “Impro theatre just doesn’t work unless you observe give and listen to other performers,” he says.

“Improvention” , The Street Theatre, July 18-24. Bookings to 62471223. More information at www.impro.com.au/act

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