I spent my Summer with Laura traveling Europe to teach and perform in festivals, and oh boy it feels good! It is not over and we are currently on our way to the Improfestival Karlsruhe, in Germany, for another week of work with a fantastic international cast!
Let me share a bit of what I did, how it went and an insight that I got to put in words and share with a student of ours.
We had the chance to be back on the road in the English-speaking festivals and events this Summer, visiting Poland, Portugal, Norway and Germany!
Me, happy in Object Tales, the showcase of our students | credits: Monika Sieklucka
We were back in this festival after three years, and believe me, it was fabulous and fantastic come back! A week full of workshops, great shows and a beaming community.
I got to play Object of Affection with Laura, as well as to teach it to students and make them play in our showcase version Object Tales. They were amazing on stage! I also got to play again with my besties Cédric and Dan in our show Just Play, that we hadn’t have the chance to play for a live audience since the beginning of the pandemic! It just felt like coming back home, especially put in music by Sacha who is such a brilliant pianist. Anananas & Pampamplemousse is back in the game!
Workshop on biographies with the fantastic Edson Duavy | credits: Laura
This was a first-timer! The beautiful new festival of Lisbon was on, and we got to be part of it! Laura was teaching, and I moderated a round table on the topic of creating a better community in improv. It was fascinating to listen to the stories and point of view of the three guests—a female improviser from the Netherlands, one from Israel, and a black man from Brazil.
We also played Object of Affection with Laura, where we got to tell the story between a post office and a pineapple!
The Bechdel Test – Corrupted cinnamon buns | credits: Daniel Nilsen Bjørneraas
This was another first-timer, even though it was in support of the ITI Conference 2022. And what a first time! I was lucky enough to be invited to teach and perform for a week in the beautiful theatre of Trykkeriet Scene, amongst friends and brilliant improvisers.
I was invited to play in multiple shows: The Song That Changed Me directed by Laura, The Bechdel Test directed by Lisa Rowland, as well as Deep Dream directed by Inbal Lori. Laura and I also played Object of Affection again, which was simply a blast, and I could direct Miyazaki’s Kingdom with five very experienced improvisers. What a treat!
In addition to all these fantastic festivals, that are inspiring as hell because of the diversity of it, the fact that I can see a lot of shows (53 shows over the 3 festivals), collaborate with brilliant improvisers, teach a lot of different topics, and take a bunch of workshops myself, I also just love digging deeper for a longer time in a specific topic.
The little girl that wanted to remember | credits: Robin Straaijer
I organised a Summer week to teach one of my favorite topics and genres again in Amsterdam: improvising in the style of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. A full intensive week working on the show with a cast of 10 talented improvisers from around the world!
It was full of surprises, emotions, poetry and I keep being surprised by the worlds created out of this work by the students. I was a true treat to start the Summer with that!
You wanted to take that intensive? I’m not sure to organise it again, but if I have enough people ready to commit, why not? 😉
I COULD have put a picture of all the amazing people...
Laura and I were invited in France for what is the best way to teach improv: a full week of workshop on the same topic with the same group. For this year, we could work for five full days with 18 improvisers from all over the country, and bring to them some of our favorite tools and scenework we use in Object of Affection.
What a delight to share this week with the two others groups and teachers, to partake with the organisers, and to savor the out-of-this-world flavors of the meals prepared by two improvisers that also happen to be a chef and a former pâtissier!
It’s all amazing things, and as often when I travel a lot, I also have a bunch of personal insights or small revelations. This Summer was no exception to the rule, and thanks to a student of our ImproWeek’s group, I phrased something out loud for the first time that I had been feeling for a while already:
We are putting ourselves on stage, but for most of us it started off kinda randomly, or by luck. We met someone that was doing improv and wanted to try, we were looking for meeting people in a new town, our theatre teacher introduced us to it or we just wanted to stop being controlling AF. We just want to do improv. And that often means that we do not pay much attention to what we put on stage, or how we do it. Because we are not trying to be political.
But here is the trick: as soon as I choose to step on stage, I get a huge power because of the exposure it gives me. I have hundreds of eyes looking at me, ears listening to me, and—hopefully—people spending money to be there with me. All of us improvisers gain this power as soon as we perform, even if it is only for Auntie Sarah in her barn with the neighbours.
Now if you’ve ever heard of Spiderman you see me coming:
| With great powers comes great responsibilities
We need to be aware of the fact that we are exposed, and therefore not choosing what to put on stage is also a choice.
The optics of your scene—or show—matters, because it will echo situations of the real world. A scene with a gender conforming repartition of the roles will probably not stand out, but it also confirms the inequalities of our societies. A scene were a loving father stay at home to take care of their kids might surprise. And as long as it surprises, as long as we make it the topic of the scene, as long as it is a thing, it needs to be put on stage.
A pattern, or repetition of the same information/setting, can give a lot of information. It can confirm what is considered the norm, and therefore represent a choice to not break these stereotypes. A group giving the roles of mothers, secretaries and love interests to all their female members is choosing to do so, it being conscious or not.
The same way, some scenes will call for some paths that improv will follow blindly without questioning it. A dinner at the in-laws? It leads to hating the mother-in-law and arguing with the partner. A secretary is played on stage? They will be endowed as a women, and probably stupid. A scene is taking place nearby a church? There will be ‘subtle’ references to children.
We have the responsibility to analyse our own patterns and choose if we want to maintain them or if we want to break them. Not choosing is not an option: it is choosing for giving exposure to the status quo.
Sometimes we want to ‘show the world as it is’ and ‘not shy away from discomfort’. It can lead to very interesting shows, scenes or discussions, like for instance the show Playing with the Enemy by Inbal Lori and Zaki Zikani. But it needs work, skill and intention to be able to put on stage a result that is interesting, educated and intentional. It needs to do our homework.
The other downside is that what is actually shown isn’t the world as it is but human nature as capitalism shows it. Research shows that most humans are good, and that we are more complex than we appear. It also shows that we learn only by example, and not by counter-example. Therefore it is also important to take the time to show the world as want to see it!
The work we do with Laura on Object of Affection is partially informed by this wish. The format of Lisa Rowland The Bechdel Test is also a great example of showing the complexity of women instead of reducing them to a single storyline. The show 7 Deadly Sins that I play with Billy Kissa and Manuel Speck is also exploring the multifaceted aspect of our lives.
Be gentle, show kindness on stage and do not shy away from exploring genuine vulnerability, genuine complexity and genuine love. The real world isn’t all bad. I promise.
You want to react to this (one more time long) Pigeon Post? Just answer to this email, I love to receive your messages, engage and discuss with you all!
Talk to you soon, Gael
No other food stuff this month, but something really cool that awakened the Pokemon-collector child in me. At the TIIF, they had designed a trading card game with the cast, as well as added silver and gold special cards during the week! Believe me, we spent quite some time catching ‘em all!
Who has a name too long to fit? | credits illustrations: Philip L. Jackson