Imagine you’re on stage, with no script, no plan and no rehearsals under your belt. All you have is your fellow players, and an enthusiastic audience who you need to interact with and most importantly- entertain spontaneously. You could make them laugh or cry, but they are the ones who will steer you in the direction they desire. Sounds daunting?
Welcome to the world of Improvisation!
Improvisational theatre is a form that is unscripted and unplanned, created spontaneously by the performers in collaboration with the audience. It allows the audience to be involved, making them the source of inspiration and therefore making every performance unlike any other.
“Hundreds and thousands of years ago, theatre started from a person telling stories somewhere which is improv in a way. And later, people started telling the same stories, maybe after rehearsing or revising it”, says Quasar Thakore Padamsee, a stalwart theatre director, producer and actor who introduced the Improv rage, White Rabbit Red Rabbit to India.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit is an improv play written by Nassim Soleimanpour, wherein the
performer is handed the script directly on stage in a sealed envelope, reading and performing it in front of a raring audience. However, if the performer has seen the play or performed it before, they aren’t allowed to perform it.
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Improvisation games and exercises have been an important part of drama education since the early 20th century. These exercises were developed further by Viola Spolin in the mid 1900s in her book Improvisation For The Theatre, the first book which chalked out techniques to learn Improvisational theatre.
Every actor and director should be open to improvisation and spontaneity, as very often, it could add and enhance the overall performance. During a scripted stage play, an actor may be forced to improvise if a que or dialogue by a fellow player is unscripted. And what if something goes wrong?
Most of us were introduced to Improv comedy at a very early age, with the tummy hurting Whose Line Is It Anyway?. You are living under a rock if you haven’t seen it!
“Comedy comes to me naturally, and improvising is a start to anything- be it theatre, or comedy, or life in general. If I had to slot myself in somewhere it would be really difficult. There isn’t a difference between the two (Improv Theatre and Comedy), except for the fact that if you don’t do comedy in Improv theatre then it is Improv theatre, but if you do comedy then it is Improv comedy. I think the core to it is Improv- whether you do it with humour or without humour- that’s upto you and depends on what the kind and nature of the show is.” Says Danish Sait, one of the earliest individuals to bring Improv comedy to the fore in India, with the The Improv group formed by Saad Khan, Sumukhi Suresh et al.
Amidst having worked as an RJ, television host, actor and content creator, Danish Sait is one of the finest Indian comedians of our times. His earliest foray into Improv comedy can be traced back to Supari on Fever 104FM, a hilarious prank call series aired in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. Currently through the pandemic, Danish has been entertaining viewers worldwide with Conversations– short videos which he uploads on YouTube and Instagram- playing 8 different alter egos. It is definitely a must watch on a gloomy day!
The biggest attraction for the audience in Improv is the fact that the play will never be repeated again, and they play a key role in the overall performance. Talk about exclusivity and importance! Speaking about the White Rabbit Red Rabbit performances in India, Quasar adds “The audience really enjoyed it. At times we found some people finishing a show, and then buying a ticket for the next show. And then the next show! I was like what are you thinking?! Since every performance is different, the audience was seeing a different play every time.”
When asked about how much control does the audience and performer have, Danish says “The audience only has that much control, I think it’s a 20-80. I would still keep most of it in your hand, whether you know it or you don’t, you still need to go with the flow. Sometimes the audience gives very vague suggestions, but you can always turn it around.”
On the same question, comedian and actor Aadar Malik says, “I would say a 10-90, with 90 towards the performer. You have absolute control. At any point if you’re losing track, you’ve lost your audience.”
Over the years, various Improv comedy groups have come up and proved to be a huge success, such as Improv Comedy Bangalore and Mischief In Action. The latter of which is an Improv media company that teaches and creates Improv theatre, comedy and music.
Talking about our like twins, Malik further adds, “The two are based on the same principles. It is performing arts in a more changing way. It is tougher to attack Improv comedy but the learning that I had from theatre helped me to apply it to Improv comedy. You can’t segregate the two. If I am doing one, then I am compensating for the other too.”
The negativity and gloom caused by the corona virus pandemic has definitely taken a toll on us. But it has also provided an opportunity to various Improv acts to come to the forefront and lighten our mood, such as The Ultimate Improv Comedy Battle by Kaneez Surka, the one minute Conversations series by Danish Sait and Bittu Ki BT by Manasi Bhawalkar. Do check these out whenever you feel down and out!
“Improvisation is a start to anything. A lot of people ask me, How do you do Improv? As much as its me who is improvising, so is everybody else. We in fact live our life with ‘Yes…And?’ Because whatever comes our way, you just accept it and move on or you find a way around it, instead of saying ‘No’”, Danish Sait adds about how Improv can be linked to daily life.
Let’s look forward to life, keeping the same mindset of never saying no, and taking life as it comes. For life is just a platform for us to improvise with those around us, is it not?