Sunday, 9 September 2001

Improvisation Across the Pacific, Sept 9, 2001

Improvisation Across the Pacific, San Francisco, Sept 9, 2001
Writer: Kate Herbert

Improvisation is an elaborate form of lying. I have been lying elaborately in Australia, USA, Canada and New Zealand since 1985.

Most recently, I visited San Francisco for the  BATS ( Bay Area Theatresports) Improvisation Festival. it ran throughout August with classes and shows day and night.

 BATS has its own theatre overlooking Golden Gate Bridge. It's improvisers' heaven.

The good news is that plans are afoot for the Melbourne Theatresports Inc. to host its own improvisation Festival in April 2002 to rival  BATS bacchanalia.

 The plan is to bring impro guru, Keith Johnstone,  to Melbourne during the Comedy Festival in April 2002 to teach workshops with both beginners and advanced improvisers.

Johnstone, an expatriate Englishman, is Emeritus Professor of Theatre at Calgary University, Canada.

In addition to Johnstone's visit, the San Francisco companies, BATS, True Fiction Magazine and LATS from Los Angeles as well as other companies, are planning to bring their long form improvised plays to the Comedy Festival.  Members of the companies are invited to teach on the course with Johnstone.

Classes in Melbourne may reflect the range of those offered at the BATS Festival: Narrative, Improvised Song, Shakespeare Improvised, Masked Improvisation and full-length improvised plays .

We may import a class from BATS which is known by its inventor, Diane Rachel, as ‘Sex and Violence’. It was originally called  "finding emotional intensity on the improvised stage," but the students called it Sex and Violence.

 The focus is on stage intimacy, stage combat and improvising in movie genres such as Film Noir,  Romance and Horror.

 Discussions are proceeding with The Victorian College of the Arts and The Melbourne International Comedy Festival to bring the Improvisation Festival plans to fruition.

Johnstone, who is an international improvisation leader, would be the greatest draw card for the festival. He wrote world-wide best-sellers, Impro and Impro for Story Tellers.

 He established Theatre Machine, an English improvisation company that travelled Europe. He settled in Calgary where he set up Loose Moose Theatre Company.

 Johnstone teaches all over Europe and North America, Asia. 2002 will be his first visit to Melbourne although we have been performing his formats since 1985.

Johnstone's is a genuinely eccentric character. He  combines the wisdom and presence of Peter Ustinov with the wackiness of Morecambe and Wise.  His classes are a labyrinth of weird information, anecdotes and his catch cry, "be average guys."

He rails about the damage schools did. We are expected to get things right and these demands ruin our ability to be spontaneous and to make mistakes.

Johnstone asks, " Have you done this before? No. Should you be good at it then? No. So get it wrong,.” Students’ eyes light up, their faces relax and they create astounding stories.

Johnstone is the inventor of the trademarked Theatresports,  which is enormously popular with audiences in Australia since 1985 and even had a TV series in 1987. He also created and trademarked Gorilla Theatre, Micetro and the Life Game (now a US TV show) which may be seen performing in Melbourne through Melbourne Theatresports Inc.

Melbourne is a hotbed of improvised theatre. All over you'll find improvisers telling stories, playing games and pretending to be other people. Sounds like psychosis but it's heaps more fun!  Improv rules!

Theatresports Grand Final is on Saturday September 22 at the National Theatre

By Kate Herbert

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