Saturday, 20 July 2013

Improvention World Gala, Canberra Theatre

I used to enjoy improvisation a lot. Fast-moving, funny, pure creativity right on stage, it amused and delighted me regularly. But lately I've drifted away. And I wasn't quite sure why. But going back, I suddenly relised why. 

Impro is wonderfully affirming for its performers. Your first idea is always your best idea. You are encouraged to accept and be accepted, you are encouraged to throw out ideas like confetti, you are allowed off the leash. But it isn't always a format designed for audiences, and can become massively self-indulgent. And unfortunately, there was an awful lot of self-indulgence on display at the World Gala. 

This was a very sparsely attended show and ... in some ways, it probably deserved to be. A gala is meant to have performers with name recognition, and there was none of that here. The international guest stars were not exactly star-ry - they were all capable, strong performers, but ... you don't get to stick star after your name unless you've actually done something your average audience member would recognise, and with the best will in the world I can't say Patti Stiles, for instance, is really being pulled up in the street for her cameos in "Neighbours" or "John Safran's Race Relations". And the format of the evening didn't lend itself to great scenes for an awfully long time - the various performers challenging each other often led to throwing so many twists and requirements on a scene that meant that actually telling a story, getting in and out and putting a few jokes in between them, kinda fell by the wayside. This stabalised a little in the second half, but even so ... there were an awful lot of scenes that flailed around failing to be interesting. 

I understand the improvisation model - it's more about teaching than it is about performing, to a certain extent (certainly, they suck far more money out of course attendees than they do out of audiences). And that's perfectly okay. But in the end ... theatre needs to be thinking about its audience, and I kinda think this wasn't a case where the audience really got much of a gurnsey.

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