Last night I did dinner and a show with a friend. The dinner was delicious Asian dumplings (difficult to eat elegantly...do wait until they've cooled before placing them in your mouth) and the show was made up on the spot. It was Maestro, produced by Impro Melbourne.
Maestro is a gladiatorial format. Last night 10 players/actors competed for the audience approval, 9 of them working in vain to avoid elimination in the quest to be crowned the Maestro and win a very special prize.
Two directors randomly draw ping pong balls with numbers which correspond to the numbers on the netball-style bibs worn by players. Sometimes scenes just start; at other times the directors will give a very loose offer and the players take it from there. At the end of each scene the audience clapometer determines the number of points to be allocated to each person in the scene. The audience doesn't lie, but occasionally is happy to play. For example, one actor repeatedly said that he had declared his love "five" times, over "five" days. The subliminal messaging continued until eventually many in the audience awarded the full five points. I did. He deserved the points for having gall and charm simultaneously. At one point in the show, I was the ONLY person who awarded two points and it felt very lonely. I clapped twice, very softly. The power of the human need to conform got me!
Like all great shows based on improvisation, not everything works. I actually love this too. It's great when a scene really comes together and the audience feels the thrill and joy of spontaneity. But when a scene doesn't quite work we see something we don't often see these days - unpolished and raw creative work.
The audience is not immune from the creative impulse. Last night one of the directors told the two players on stage that they were on holiday in a tiny caravan. I was sitting five seats away, so she heard me when I said, "Oh god" in response to the idea of the tiny caravan. She asked me if I'd been in one and asked me to describe it. Off I went: "Everything is close together - too close together. The bed is in the kitchen, the stove is on the bed, the TV is on the stove..." I could have added that you can flush the toilet and do the dishes from the comfort of your bed too.
The scene that resulted, was silly and funny with more and more people being invited to come into the caravan (of course it was raining outside) and doing the simplest thing like getting the milk out of the fridge required the skill of a contortionist to climb under and over the other people in the caravan.
Another highlight was the discussion between the two yokels about what exactly an "air strip" is. (It's a strip of specially imported air!)
Permission to be silly and play is one of the things that drew me to improvisation years ago. I use it daily in all kinds of situations. (Last week I wrote a new song inspired by the rats I had discovered in my roof...it's all done, but it could be a country song or a shoo-wop song and I can't decide. I might keep playing and turn it into a rap!)
I was reading something today (I can't remember what) but it was a statement that spontaneity is an essential ingredient for us to perceive other people as authentic. It makes sense; if you're in a spontaneous mindset, then you're present, open, listening and ready to dive in. If you're in a spontaneous mindset, you're not worried about what anyone else is thinking of you or busily planning your next comment when you should be listening closely to someone else.
Impro Melbourne runs classes if you want to tap into your spontaneity. Or you could go along on a Sunday night and have a lot of fun for $10!
I left feeling inspired, even though it was dark at 4:30pm on the first day of winter.
Do you improvise? Have you seen Maestro? What did you think? What's your favourite impro format?