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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]


There is no denying sport is an integral part of the word ‘Theatresports’, but is that where the similarities end?
The following is a transcript of the pre-match commentary from a recent Wellington sporting event.

Jack: Kia ora and welcome. Ready for a showdown of boos and cheers, spontaneity and sweat, beer and inadequate legroom? You could be in the Westpac Stadium, but NO, you are in the third row of the Fringe Bar, enjoying your reasonably priced beverage and splitting your sides immersed in Wellington’s booming improv comedy scene. It’s a crisp night here in the hub of improv and you can expect some intense game-play from both sides and each team giving 110% in this game of four halves. I’m Jack Knoff and I’m here with my colleague Joe Kerr.

Joe: Thanks Jack. It’s an absolutely cracker night for some improv here in the capital. You know improv has become known for quirk, quick wit, and ex-sitcom stars sitting behind desks, but all around the world the sport grows in strength and popularity without the help of television magic.

Jack: Indeed. Indeed it has, and this city is home to an array of improv talent from the seasoned professional to the humble beginner. Wellington is a great launching pad for all artistic endeavours in New Zealand and improv is no exception.
Joe: Yes, this is indeed the sport of champions.

Jack: Thanks Joe, bold contribution. At all levels of play this noble sport has similar characteristics: small teams go head-to-head acting out unplanned stories based on inspiration from the audience. Characters, dialogue, and plot appear before your very eyes and for your viewing pleasure. Players demonstrate a plethora of skills in this non-contact sport; they have to be quick on their feet, spontaneous, and creative.

Joe: I always say improvisers must have huge testicles to do what they do because they are putting themselves out there with a high chance of total, abysmal failure. Let’s be honest, New Zealand—the only reason we go to rugby matches is for Speight’s, scraps and streakers. Now improv—this is real drama.

Jack: How delicately put, Joe. However, audience members attend improv and rugby for similar reasons; what we watch at Westpac Stadium is an extended improvisation with all players aiming for the same goal.

Joe: In rugby, it’s that big H at the far end of the field and in improv it’s a satisfying conclusion.

Jack: Right. The philosophy behind improv was established by Canadian, Keith Johnstone who licences the ‘Theatresports’ brand to the world. On the origin of theatresports he says “professional wrestling was the only working-class theatre that I’d ever seen” and this idea planted the seed of theatresports. It developed into a form that gives an audience the feeling they’ve been watching of a bunch of good-natured people who are wonderfully cooperative, and who aren’t afraid to fail. He says “it’s therapeutic to be in such company, and to yell and cheer”.

Joe: Too right, mate. When a scene goes well, the audience loves it and the actors get that brilliant sense of accomplishment. It also has a different atmosphere to a scripted show. There is an element of discovery because the audience is learning the story at the same time as the actors, which I reckon creates a unique audience-actor bond.

Jack: Well, often when we see a scripted show, we are seeing one director’s vision, but in a theatresports show we can see the true teamwork that makes this sport so invigorating and accessible. There is a teamwork that you rarely find in a theatre; you are seeing four players relying on each other to deliver stories.

Joe: That audience relationship sure is something swell, isn’t it? What with the actors relying so much on the audience for support and inspiration. It’s magical. So let’s have a look at our local players in this brutal sport.

Jack: Well Joe, Wellington’s improv scene is dominated by two main players who cater to different audiences. On one side of the playing field, The Improvisers fill Circa Theatre with laughs on a regular basis, while WIT (Wellington Improvisation Troupe) keep the Fringe Bar chuckling. Now The Improvisers are Wellington’s first and longest-running corporate theatre company and have produced improv theatre shows like such as Improv Cage Match and Shakespeare: The Musical.

Joe: And WIT is a non-profit organisation with a community focus. They perform a mixture of shows ranging from the sketch filled shows like Battle of the WITs to the more long form formats like the musical WIT Side Story.
(Paul enters stage left.)

Jack: Now we’re joined by Paul Sullivan from WIT for his take on improv. Tell us about WIT, Paul.

Paul: Well, WIT members come from a variety of different backgrounds; there are some members who have no experience and others who have been doing improv for many years. It’s great to see your average Wellingtonian jump in give it a go. It’s a good way to get to know other people if you know what I mean.

Jack: Paul, why this whole improv malarkey?

Paul: Well it’s much more exciting to see something that is fresh and spontaneous. Actors are forced to engage in their material and it makes for a great, enthusiastic crowd.

Joe: But with such short scenes, is it all that satisfying?

Paul: Well the recent emergence of long form improv is pushing the boundaries of what theatre can be. You guys should come to some.

Jack: Indeed we will Paul, indeed we will. Like stand-up, theatresports and improv are traditionally seen as a male-dominated activity. So do women ever get the chance to tell a joke?

Paul: Well it is true that improv has been mostly focused on the male performers, however WIT is all about fostering talent and giving everyone their spotlight. We have a female improv competition each year called Improv Divas. And we’ve found our long form productions provide a great platform for our female improvisers.

Jack: Brilliant, thank you for your time, Paul.

Paul: No worries guys. Enjoy the show!

Jack: Well the atmosphere has changed in the room, the teams are readying themselves and the show is mere moments away from beginning. So in these finals tense minutes, we would like to bid our listeners farewell
Joe: Bonza, Jack! I’m ready to gets my improv on. Remember, as Keith Johnstone always says: “With luck you’ll feel as if you’ve been at a wonderful party; great parties don’t depend on the amount of alcohol but on positive interactions.”

If you are interested in having a go like those cats on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, WIT has weekly open training session and would love to see your beautiful face. 7-9pm Tuesdays at Capital E. (Google maps that shit)


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