Whose theater is it anyway?

Rome Jorge

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Follow your feet to the Manila Improv Festival 2013

'FOLLOW YOUR FEET.' Gabe Mercado (3rd from right) with members of Silly People's Improv Theater (SPIT). Catch them at Manila Improv Festival 2013 on June 25 to 30 at the PETA Theater. Photo by Shaira Luna

MANILA, Philippines – It’s a juggling act with actors throwing each other unpredictable lines and keeping the act up in the air in the most hair-raising of ways.

It’s a comedy of almost-errors, where audiences laugh not only at their quick wit but also at the precariousness of the actors as they catch and volley each others’ quips.

It’s a Ouija board with everyone’s hand on the planchette — including the audience — and no one can define what the outcome will be.

It is theater free for any player or patron to hijack.

It is improv comedy theater. 

IMPROV FEVER. Members of Beijing Improv in an unpredictable performance

In Metro Manila, Silly People’s Improv Theater (SPIT) is the only game in town, the last remaining thespian company of its kind when others have proved to be one hit wonders. But, soon, that won’t be the case, at least not for a few side-splitting, gut-busting, rolling-on-the-floor-laughing days.

On June 25 to 30, the People’s Liberation Improv and 3 Dudes Improv of Hongkong, Beijing Improv, Taichung Improv of Taiwan, Xiamen Improv, Zmack of Shanghai and the Pirates of Tokyo Bay — improv theater companies from across Asia — join SPIT for 6 hilarious shows to celebrate Manila Improv Festival 2013 at the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) Theater Center.

For just P400, audiences will enjoy 3 improv groups for each set. Many of these theater companies, though based in Asia, are composed of western expatriates, so language isn’t a problem. The festival is themed “Follow Your Feet” — a theater improv principle of unceasingly going with the flow regardless of the direction the performance takes.

What improv is

SPONTANEOUS, WITTY. In improv, actors make it up as they go along. Photo of SPIT members by Shaira Luna

With conventional theater, each scene and line is rehearsed until the art of theater becomes an exact science. Lighting, set design and blocking are all fine tuned, leaving nothing to chance.

Not so with improvisational theater where quite the exact opposite is true. In improv, actors make it up as they go along, reacting to each other as well as the audience’s input.

By far, the most popular genre of improv theater is comedy. There are the short form, which creates vignettes, and the long form, which can last for more than half an hour and creates a complete narrative. 

Some know improv as an effective theater class exercise that teaches actors to think on their feet and never choke onstage. Others have experienced improv as a fun corporate team building exercise that promotes spontaneity, sensitivity and intuition.

But for most people, the easiest way to explain what improv is is to remind them of that beloved television show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Yes, that’s improv: you throw them words and they will make them into lyrics and dialogue. They finish each other’s sentences, not knowing what the other actor might say, to create a story. They invent subtitles for fictional foreign language films.

And so much more. 

ONE IN IMPROV THEATER. Members of Xiamen Improv. Catch them at Manila Improv Festival 2013. Image from Xiamen Improv

Nonetheless, there are misconceptions about improv. If you think improv requires no practice or training, you couldn’t be more wrong. More than just talent, it takes skill honed by practice. 

This I can attest to. I had the good fortune of witnessing SPIT performances during their seminal years about a decade ago at the legendary Bohemian performance venue, Sanctum. And they, in SPIT founder and Manila Improv Festival artistic director Gabe Mercado’s own words, “sucked” back then.

But at a recent press conference at Aristocrat restaurant for the upcoming Manila Improv Festival, they performed several short form spiels with undeniable, laugh-out-loud success.

Such panache and aplomb bode well for the upcoming Manila Improv Festival. But no one knows for sure how it will go. No need to worry; they will surely improvise.

And that’s the beauty of it: like many of the best things in life, it’s a surprise. It’s improv. – Rappler.com

Rome Jorge is the editor on chief of Asian Traveler magazine.

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