I am back from a pretty fantastical festival where I worked with an ensemble, rehearsing, directing and being directed over a week, six-hours-a-day. It felt incredibly good!
Now being back home, and handling both the start of the school year for Flock Theatre, planning our season of shows and guest instructors, as well as working for the production of IMPRO Amsterdam, I am reflecting on the notion of formats in improv, and how we tend to approach it.
Read along for some thoughts, some news and the great come back of some cooking stuff!
At the beginning of my courses, I tend to introduce my work ethics. This includes check-ins and safety, but also more and more it includes a little note on the fact that I am someone that finds my joy in the work of improv.
This means that I’m asking from people to engage with curiosity in the content while in class. By the end of it, they can keep whatever resonated with them, store whatever felt unadapted to how they feel now, and throw away what they didn’t like. But for a class, a course, a workshop, a show to work, it needs dedication to it. It needs us to be interested in what it actually has to offer!
The ensemble of Improfestival Karlsruhe 2022 | credits: Robin Straaijer
In Karlsruhe, I worked with a bunch of very inspiring people, and something that Andrew Hefler said really resonated with how I feel about a lot of things in improv:
Always be interested in precision, but never become obsessed by it.
This translated by always trying the hardest you can to do things as clean, precise and professional as possible, while letting go of perfectionism as soon as it belongs to the past. I can really relate to this!
I also like the implied opposite: don’t be obsessed by precision, but always be interested in it. It really covers a lot of how I experience what I love in improv, what sometimes frustrates me, and what I don’t like in it.
In the format Andrew directed, The Afterparty, the structure is simple: three monoscenes, happening in different sets placed by the actors that will not play the scene. Very. Simple. And yet, a show like that can look very different from what you intend if you do not work on it with the cast that will perform! Luckily, the rehearsal focused on the skills needed, not only to understand the structure of the format, but to actually make it a specific show. Which is my favorite way to work. Ever.
The cast of The Afterparty after the show | credits: Robin Straaijer
This leads to the heart of this reflection: what makes a format a format, and why do we need to rehearse the skills needed for them, even when we understand the structure in under a minute.
This question started running in my head a long time ago already. First when back in France I realized how odd it is to call any format that is not the Match a concept. More and more I started adopting and sharing the word format, until facing the universal communication problem of the world: different people mean different things, even when they use the same word.
I direct improvised shows both locally and internationally, and sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that we cannot play my show if we don’t have a rehearsal. And that for some of these shows, 3h of rehearsal is tight. Even when the cast is made of experienced improvisers.
Most formats or shows can be explained in a few minutes, sitting at a table with a coffee in hand. When you have an experienced cast, they will be able to understand it and give a good improv show. Add to that a moment to talk about the style the show is based on, and you might even have some of these players hitting some of the things you wished for your show. But chances are … it will not have any specificity to it, nor any unique flavour.
That is why the set of rules, or structure, or format is not enough to be able to actually play the format! Some, like Omar in the magazine Status, tried to bring in new words to explain the difference, some focused on the specificities of directing improv, and some don’t really see the difference between the two, or just don’t care.
I wish for the improv field to prosper and strive—no matter if I resonate with the style or not. And I feel like in order to do that, to be recognized, to be valued, we need to behave like professionals, and to believe that what we are doing is worth it. And to do that, we need to work on our shows, on our skills and on our craft.
Working will get us to expand what improv can be—and hopefully open new doors into new theatres. Working will make us stop believing that a successful improviser is someone that doesn’t need to improvise anymore. Working will get us out of a logic where we perform only for our peers—can you imagine a football match with only footballers in the audience?!
Let me circle back to how much I love improv work. This weekend, I went to Switzerland and I saw an improvised play with Odile Cantero and Paul Berrocal—Anna Krenger being the third actress to rotate in this duoshow—and Tiago Branquino on tech.
The set of Bunker after 18 days of survival agains a grasshopper invasion
It is a post-apocalyptic play where we follow two strangers stuck in a bunker. It is not comedic. It is beautifully staged. It has amazing theatrical devices. It has required work, refinement, and a final week of full-time rehearsal to lead to the two weeks of shows they have. It is so good! And that whole process—and more if finances allowed—is just what makes our job so fun!
This is not only valid for projects of this scale, and we do not need to be full-time improvisers to want to improve. There is more to it than having to choose between having fun and caring about the work. This is accessible to anyone in the field, from beginner to professional: wanting more doesn’t make you a party pooper.
Noun: The way in which something is arranged or set out.
Noun, in improv (proposition by Gael): The set of rules, direction, skills, philosophy, cast and technical means that describes and allow an improvised show to be performed, in a holistic approach to its performance.
This will for sure not close the debate, there will be plenty of miscommunications, and much more discussions to come—which I always love. But hopefully, it will give tools for anyone to understand me better, as well as my choices, my needs and my grumblings when it comes to putting a show on stage!
Talking about craft, here is a way to put it into application: the IMPRO Amsterdam’s application process for teaching, directing, performing, etc. just opened! Follow the link, and use the following roadmap to see what you can do!
Roadmap for your participation at the festival | credits: Gael Doorneweerd-Perry
Thanks again for reading me! Do you have anything you would like to share, to answer, or a meme to send to me? You can simply answer this email!
Talk to you soon!
It’s almost winter again—at least it feels like it—which means that we are getting back into the cabbages, roots and other pumpkins season. Buying seasonal and local vegetables—which are pretty monotonous in the Netherlands between September and April—forced me to discover new ways to cook, as well as experiment with vegetables I did not like.
The best example of that is fennel: I really don’t like anise and anything connected to it, which comprises fennel. But I found a way to sweeten the taste, but first browning the fennels with shallots and a pinch of butter, and then roasting them in a bit of stock.
The result? I now voluntarily buy fennels, because I’m craving for them!
Seasonal veggies—apparently I eat my fennels too fast without ever taking pictures
Find me on Facebook or Instagram. Find out my latest activity, my classes and workshops to come here.