Wednesday, 11 December 2013

International Improv Identity

The conception of this article was quite a number of years ago, this means that the reference list that I have used are more recent and less specific than I may hope to be using in future articles. In some cases, the references are completely missing.

The international improv identity has many aspects to hone in on. Our identity that we each hold can be noted as the way we carry ourselves, the perceptions and interpretations we have and the knowledge we have, desire and crave. As Stryker (1980, p. 65) states about identity, it is “patterned regularities that characterize most human action.” These are what we use to identify our improv too. The improv world is busy nowadays. Identity also impacts what we do and how we do it. The art form ages, matures and continually develops just like we do. Improv is a process. In the process of our journeys, the groups, the countries or towns (hamlets if you so wish) have connections that increase between them and therefore allowing people to get to share their identities to influence and cross-pollinate.

Nonetheless, the international improv identity is world wide and actually quite similar on certain aspects. In various countries there are spectacles of improvisation like Theatresports. It and many other influences, like the competition of Theatreports, have managed to travel. One man that achieves the goal of transmitting his style and culture, and now moved to Madrid, is Omar Argentino Galván. This one man with stickers all over himself, pulls one off with the audience suggestion on and improvises (Galván, 2013). Originally in Argentina and travelling around South America and Europe, he puts on this spectacle. Likewise there is the stadium-filled improv performed in Portuguese and translated with captions on YouTube, which can be found on Improvavel's channel ( These spectacles are attractive to huge audiences. In some manner, we can associate spectacles with the likes of sport, football has a wide and world audience. The competition may be that aspect that allows bigger audience's to understand it quicker. Competitive improv is the world recognised style that offers similarities. Two places that do so are Cape Town, who run the Theatresports format (, 2013) and Berlin, Germany, who have Comedysportz (Comedy Sportz, 2013). Europe has two groups that are apart of the sub-community of improvisation, Comedysportz. These franchised formats offer an even more specific community that builds international connections. Anyhow, between two continents of Europe and Africa we see similarities of competition. In South America there is ImproSport, and this has been a festival too (, 2013). This further demonstrates that all these continents share this similarity. In order to emphasise these similarities more, in 2004 in Mexico City, various countries competed in the 'World Improv Championship' in Spanish (, 2013). Furthermore, 'Catch Impro', an originally French format, is performed in various European countries and I know of it being played in Mexico too. It derived from the patented Canadian French format Le Match d'Impro (Sophie, 2013). Not to mention 'Catch Impro' influenced and inspired 'Ultimate Improv' in United States of America. It is also possible to find leagues of improv teams in the Czech Republic. The Czech Improvisation League is in Prague (, 2013). This could have come from one influence, Keith Johnstone, the creator of Theatresports is a noted influence on 'Catch Impro' and the treatment of improvisation as a sport is clearly what the leagues are aiming for too. So this displays how short-form is worldwide through being competitions. We can also hear about worldwide improv and discover more connections.

We can hear all about long-form around the world through various podcasts. Listening to podcasts and hearing various perspectives can support the integration of identities to influence our journeys. On the Flint Podcast, (Redmond, 2012) one episode spoke with Rama Nicholas from Australia. Nicholas discussed 'The Wishing Tree' that honed in on elements of long-form to create stories (Nicholas, 2013). Nicholas was inspired by Japanese culture of the Tanabata where people are invited to share their honest wish. In the Osaka Twilight festival, Nicholas realised the concept of wishing and myths. The Wellington Improvisation Troupe, from New Zealand also perform this production (The Wellington Improvisation Troupe, 2012). They moved into long-form in 2005 with 'LovePossibly', which was inspired by the movie genre of romantic comedies. The influence offered here is from their focus on story to their theatricality and artistic vision for the production. It is possible to listen about them with the Flint Podcast too (Redmond, 2012). In Austin, Texas in North America, the group known as P'graph, or in full Parallelogramophonograph, perform inspired by various genres. (, 2013) Although they hate the term narrative improv, they can be described as doing so. Not so strangely enough, they too have been interviewed on the Flint podcast. The international identities that can be suggested here are the connected and similar focus on story and genre. These podcasts are for people to offer influence for your journey, give information and history. The fairly endless list of podcasts available, which I still desire to find more as I know there are some I've not found, can be the clarity you need, the reassurance of your thoughts you are currently pondering on and the opposing thoughts that will strengthen your theories too. An example is the Ian Roberts episode in Stephen Perlstein's Improv Obsession podcast (Perlstein, 2013) that offers insight and experience from one of the founders of the UCB, I did not agree with some of what he says. This is my opinion and maybe as time goes on, I will get to see his perspective more. However, in a contrary manner, I agree with what Mick Napier states in Mark Colomb's infamous (or at least should be, it was one of my favourites) 'Poor Choices Show' podcast (Colomb, 2013). For those thoughts that are contrary to the podcasts' participants, they will enable you to reason for yourself or allow you to question yourself. This is because we are individuals, we have our own focus and identities to offer too.

Improvisers bring a lot to the set. The Rapid Fire Theatre do short-form competitive format and lives happily in Edmonton, Alberta (Rapid Fire Theatre, 2010) next to the episodic long-form of 'Soap-A-Thons' from Die Nasty in the same Canadian city. (, 2013) The varied formats of improv can mix and use the same casts of improvisers and in doing so have enabled the groups to perform using the attributes or productions of both long-form and short-form (not that the distinction is of massive importance, but that is for another time). These players are therefore linking their identity as an improviser in the two needs of the structure and techniques of the formats. Furthermore, The English Lovers from Vienna, Austria, perform with a cast from all over the world with a mix of improvisation identities. (, 2013) Each improviser comes from their background and experiences to offer into the performance what they will. When they can all come from their countries in order to perform, it merges their identities in the performance. This surely goes beyond the slight back and forth of influence of neighbouring improvisational productions in the same city. The concept that each improviser on their journey that are developing and being influenced external to the rest of the group, as they are in another country, is a thought that is enjoyable as they bring that difference of identity into the production. The group may settle into old ways, but it is interesting to suddenly be in a scene with a performer who is offering from a new mindset that they may have had before. 

Language holds some impact to little hindrance to improv. In one festival, Würzburg Improtheaterfestival (, 2013), I participated in a show that was being performed mainly in German and it was very fun and engaging. The language barrier that exists in everyday communication when you lack the knowledge of the countries' language is not a barrier in improv. In the show, I did a scene with Melanie Baumann who afterwards told me she speaks very bad English. It was not noticeable, in that moment after the show or onstage, and the scene we performed together was very fun. This shows that how we say something is more important than what we say. Likewise it can suggest that what we do is more important than what we say. In Rome, Italy, I saw a show that was a lovely format that I really enjoyed watching from I Bugiadini. (, 2013) The whole night was in Italian and I do not speak or know a word of the language. Therefore, this provides further evidence that improv is not about what we say or trying to say funny things. Connections do not fade through differences in language. However, the cultural identity of the country will need consideration. In Turkey, although people understand English, they will not speak it. This is said, through first hand experience, that they cannot speak the language and only understand the words spoken (and that is an unmeasured percentage of the population, so a generalisation made through discussion). This did impact the improv, as when I got onstage with some Turkish and Turkey-based improvisers, there was clear instructions to what short-form game I could play. Needless to say, this was not the best method or use of my time. It was not enjoyable. It is clear that in this case, the time and consideration in the matter had not been taken by myself or those involved in the producing of the night. I have experienced a night, although in a different culture, where the short-form was beyond language. There are games where language is not central and would have meant any improviser could get up. Hence there are ways that someone's cultural identity can have impact.

Recently an American improviser scouted out information on UK impro and mentioned that it's the cultural specifics that are the hurdle. It is true in some way. When performing in an international cast, mentioning some childhood television programme will be a struggle to work with from the foreigner to the reference. Simon Clarke (2008) states “at the crux of a cultural identity... is, the notion of identity as shaped not just in relation to some other, but to the Other, to another culture.” (ibid., p. 511) Clarke discusses the fact that we present ourselves in public, consciously or unconsciously, and we are in relation to others. The multi-faceted term of cultural identity that holds many parts such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and class (ibid., p. 510) that sets us in comparison to another. In improvisation, our references hold differences to what the other improviser may know. The perceptions about what that identity is and how to react through common perception about the cultural identity will bring the improvisers together. Clarke also states that our identities are fact or fiction, there are some imagined identities and other people are the ones to state your identity, or as in improv, endowment. So that childhood television programme that one improviser will not understand is now suggested to be merely an aspect of the mutual cultural identity of characters that even actual people, thus not characters, may share differently.

Another issue to resolve is the sorry stories I hear about groups rejecting people. There has been two UK groups, I heard, turn people away and even a player worried that she couldn't connect and join in with another group. Scarily all the groups were University student groups. This suggests that the system in place in all universities are destroying the prospects of such a collaborative, connective global art form. The stories worry me, because as a global art form of a specific community of the world, we need to not close anyone out. Without collaboration then we block opportunities and networking. When I found 'Catch Impro,' I tried it out. When doing so, I put teams together myself, mostly, and this meant that the pairings were strangers to each other. I even had a man from New Zealand come and it was his first improv show in the UK. Javier Jarquin is a great and highly experienced improviser and the fact that it came about whilst in a symposium in the Edinburgh Fringe festival when I made a shout out request for one more improviser, makes the fact even better.

We can connect and collaborate, through podcasts, social networking, travelling or other online or offline methods. The one example of going to improv festivals can open up networks, strengthen an old connection or perhaps even be the first time you've met that Facebook friend you added a few years ago. It is one way, and it is a good way too. It achieves these international connections quickly. As the way the art form is, and the way it works, we are in the community that is worldwide. The connections that we are able to make are easier through doing the work we do and the collaborations that are therefore possible onstage and off are full of various international identities. These can help inform our current practice and support our development. Furthermore, I know I shall discover more and more through my tour of workshops around the world over the coming times. This is really relevant from the recent explorations. For information regarding these workshops please visit: and go to classes, then email me.

Other interesting facts, in South Korea there is the Seoul City Improv that with their acronym of SCI do a lovely CSI rendition of their name. Also they had Improv Boston visit in 2011 (Koreabridge, 2013). In Manila, this year there was a festival, their second one. I gained a lovely invite, but unfortunately could not attend. There was a lot of groups from nearby countries that attended (Manila International Improv Festival, 2013) such as '3 Dudes Improv' from Hong Kong, China, 'People's Liberation Improv' also from Hong Kong and 'Beijing Plus One' from Beijing, China. The Chinese improv community holds a variety of forms, with more long-form being exposed to audiences now. '3 Dudes Improv' are a long-form group that reach various festivals (, 2013). 'People's Liberation Improv' are a short-form group that do regular shows in the TakeOut Comedy Club and attend festivals, obviously (, 2013). The 'Beijing Plus One' are focused on being culturally diverse and bilingual in their short-form and have also visited a variety of festivals ( 2013). Interestingly this source can expose people to the amount of improv in the Eastern world. All very exciting, alike the improvised Bollywood movie that was performed in Berlin's 'Impro 2013' Festival, where Improv Comedy Mumbai created songs, dances and storylines (YouTube, 2013). Originally performed in IMPRO Amsterdam 2012 (Improv Comedy Mumbai, 2011).

Reference List 2013. Visiting Groups - Beijing Improv. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013]. 2013. Home. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013]. 2013. Die Nasty The Legendary Live Improvised Soap Opera!. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013].

Clarke, S. 2008. The SAGE Handbook of Cultural Analysis. [e-book] SAGE Publications. pp. pp. 510 - 529. Available through: SAGE Publications [Accessed: 4 Dec 2013].

Colomb, M. 2013. Episode 200: Annoying Mick Napier. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013].

Comedy Sportz. 2013. ComedySportz. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013]. 2013. English Lovers. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013]. 2013. The New Improv Page-Groups-World. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013].

Galván, O. 2013. improtour. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013]. 2013. Hong Kong International Improv Festival. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013].

Improv Comedy Mumbai. 2011. Improv Comedy Mumbai. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 16 Dec 2013]. 2013. Improguise | Players of TheatreSports. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013]. 2013. Novedades. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013]. 2013. English 2011 | Improtheaterfestival Würzburg. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013]. 2013. World Improvisation Championship - Mexico City - January 17-25, 2004 - Improv Message Boards. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013].

Koreabridge. 2013. Seoul City Improv presents ImprovBoston @ MoonNight. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013].

Manila International Improv Festival. 2013. Featured Acts. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013].

Nicholas, R. 2013. The Wishing Tree. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 16 Dec 2013]. 2013. About Us | People's Liberation Improv. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013].

Perlstein, S. 2013. Stephen Perlstein - 50: Ian Roberts. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013]. 2013. Improvised Plays from Austin, Texas by Parallelogramophonograph. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013].

Rapid Fire Theatre. 2010. Rapid Fire Theatre – Edmonton's Longest Running Improv Theatre. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013].

Redmond, T. 2012. The FLINT Podcast. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013].

Sophie, A. 2013. Facebook Comment. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 16 Dec 2013].

Stryker, S. (1980). Symbolic interactionism: A social structural version. Menlo Park: Benjamin Cummings Publications

The Wellington Improvisation Troupe. 2012. wishing tree | The Wellington Improvisation Troupe. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 16 Dec 2013].
YouTube. 2013. Barbixas. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 1 Dec 2013].

YouTube. 2013. Improv Comedy Mumbai, Bollywood Show 22/03/2013, English Theatre Berlin. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 11 Dec 2013].

Further corrections or points can be added, so far I thank Anja Sophie.

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