NZ IMPROV FESTIVAL 2017 Day #1
17/10/2017 - 17/10/2017
NZ IMPROV FESTIVAL 2017 Day #1
Tuesday 17 October 2017
(Opening night drinks will be served after this show)
Four teams enter. One team leaves. The king-of-the-hill improv battle royale returns! Issued challenges by Master & Blaster, our teams of improvisors will tickle your funny bone, warm your heart, or shock your senses! Anything could happen (but mostly improv).
(created in UK, new to NZ)
Everybody knows everybody in this home-town comedy of characters set in a community much like ‘this one.’ Using audience suggestions the festival cast weave together an improvised play that proves that anything can happen in a village.
(Wellington, World Premiere)
Everything can be worked out over a good meal! The hopes, dreams and dysfunctional dynamics of groups of diners play themselves out in improvised stories created over the course of the dinner service at The Restaurant.
Theatre , Improv ,
1 hr each show
A momentous start
Review by John Smythe 18th Oct 2017
BATS buzzes with improv aficionados from all over the country and world, gathered to participate in, and/or witness, some or all of a week of it at this year’s New Zealand Improv Festival, subtitled ‘A Festival of Moments’.
Appropriately the ‘warm up’ show is Improdome, MCd by festival director Jennifer O’Sullivan, in which four teams of four players, put together just hours before, compete in four challenges set by the Controllers of the Improdome, Master (Jim Fishwick) and Blaster (Matt Powell). The audience clap-o-meter rates each effort from 1 to 5.
Given the convention of announcing team names with Graham Nortonesque hyper-enthusiasm, I can only guess at some spellings: Dark Dux (DD); The Curious Case of Bread, Jam and Butter in the Night-Time (TCCBJBNT); Double Shot Latte (DSL); Not For The Male Gaze (NFTMG). Steph Cairns is the keyboard musician and Darryn Woods is on lights – both adding significant value with their offers and responses.
The 16 players are: Alayne Dick, Anneke Wisner, Barry Miskimmin, Brendon Bennetts, Campbell Wright, Cass Rowles, Christine Brooks, Dianne Pulham, Geoff Simmons, George Fenn, Jaklene Vukasinovic, Katherine Weaver, Lyndon Hood, Matt Hutton, Rachel Anastasi Belke, Rik Brown.
Round One is a ‘word in time’ challenge, where each team chooses their genre and incorporates an audience ‘ask for’. So DD tells a word-by-word story involving Trouble; TCCBJBNT scores a 5 with rhyming couplets that take them to Hawaii; DSL offers experts in Haberdashery; NFTMG take a ‘New Choice’ challenge to the Taj Mahal. It’s a good warm-up and everyone is in the zone.
Round Two’s One Minute Lightning challenge sees three teams in a row score four, with scenarios involving love lost in all likelihood, a lost wallet – nicely done with mime and silent movies-style music, women friends becoming girlfriends at a scary movie … But Dark Dux takes it out with a pre-game rant about the correct pronunciation of their name – “Not Duck Ducks; it’s Dark Dux!” – which Master Blaster declares is their entry, thus scoring a protest-cum-sympathy vote of 5 points.
Given the winning rant was delivered by Geoff Simmons, Co-Deputy Leader of TOP (The Opportunities Party) and Candidate for Wellington Central in the recent General Election, he is surely left wondering why it was so hard for TOP to get 5% of the vote last month. But I digress. Or do I?
Buoyed by this, DD stretch the boundaries even more by turning a directed challenge to play a scene in exactly 3 minutes into a tag-team pash-session culminating in a 3-way. Another 5!
Then DSL score 4 for a French magician’s poignant tale to another about his childhood; NFTMG score 5 for taking a woman from the audience on her dream trip to Peru, and TCCBJBNT’s playlet inspired by “I can’t take it anymore” scores them 5 as well.
Now it’s Blaster Matt Powell’s turn to live up to his title by blasting us, the audience, for scoring too high and evenly, putting only two points between first and last. MC Jennifer O’Sullivan backs him up by decreeing each score can be used only once for the final round: a Team Choice challenge.
DSL ask for animals and what they do with them scores them 3; NFTMG find themselves being ‘four women who like each other’ in a Whakatane kumara chip factory and score 2; TCCBJBNT play with familial confessions about the worst thing they ever did, scoring 4 … This leaves DD only able to score 1 or 5 with their ‘No shoes in the wardrobe’ scenario, and of course they get another 5.
This places TCCBJBNT and DD first equal. A quick and hilarious play-off sees the Dark Dux awarded the opportunity to compete in Improdome #2 (Wednesday, 6.30pm).
Opening night’s Spontaneous Showcase show is The Village, directed by Clare Kerrison, with Jamie Burgess on keyboard and Mary Little on lights. Nine players – Amy Davison, Anne Murn, Clayton Pearce, Jan Feld, Katherine Weaver, Laura Irish, Scott Sumby, Tim Croft, Chris Ong – stand by for the audience ask-fors that will spark off this hour of supported long-form improv.
Asked for an occupation, a location, a reason for pride and the name of the village, we stipulate: a horse handler, a bakery and the biggest pumpkin, in Stickle.
Act One miraculously manifests Dave and Stanley bonding in the bakery over veggie muffins; Ollie polishing his mega pumpkin, admired by Gina; Randy and Sandy working their zucchini plot to compete in the village fair’s squash section; horse handler Susan, a talented artist, including her mother in her enterprise – and Brent, from Newtown, opening a new Stickle Bakery that only offers chocolate muffins, which Dave takes a liking to.
Not everyone is named in the action, so Clare gets us to nominate those who need it and sums up the story so far. She also wants us to pick a main character whose story will take precedence but we are too even-handed (again) although Ollie, the pumpkin guy, gets the nod.
In Act Two the established characters interact with different others and the plot thickens with unforeseen misfortunes, especially for Ollie, new relationships, romantic betrayals and dastardly plots, culminating in the Bakery burning down.
In order to ensure Act Three brings resolution, Clare asks us for ‘ways to make up’ and we offer a range of choices. But first everyone has to negotiate a literal patch of horse shit. Randy is banished, Gina reunites with Ollie and the ‘make up’ choice is that she is pregnant … But is it to Ollie or Randy?
A second season for this soap opera is clearly possible but the festival is as ruthless as a TV network: it’s over, never to be continued, move on.
The World Premiere component this opening night is The Restaurant, directed by Christine Brooks. The Propeller Stage is decked with five tables, 12 chairs, a small bar and two house musicians: Liam Kelly (keys) and Isaac Thomas (guitar).
Without preamble 13 players enter and each randomly (I think) finds a chair; that is Jen O’Sullivan, Jaklene Vukasinovic, Lyndon Hood, Glenn Cousins, Trubie-Dylan Smith, Luke Rimmelzwaan, Cass Rowles, Dianne Pulham, Linda Calgaro, Graham Sholar, Michelle Marlowe get seated, leaving Rik Brown to become the Waiter.
Three binary couples grace the front tables, three woman cluster at another and the remaining three (2m, 1f) occupy the other rear table. From their table-chats it gradually emerges one couple is on their second romantic date, another is trying to resurrect their love-life having got in a rut after having ‘the twins’, while the third reveals a strong wife wanting her pathetic husband to ‘man up’.
The metaphorical baton passes seamlessly from table to table and any fear that their stories will unfold too methodically is disrupted by the Waiter’s unpredictable and entertaining interventions, which all the players respond to splendidly.
The three women turn out to be a work group, with two globe-trotting socialites (board members, perhaps) trying to get the third out of her shell by hooking up with the Waiter. The other three are planning to steal the painting behind the bar and are bickering in the process.
Meanwhile the second-date couple have trouble distinguishing feelings of love from allergy symptoms; the parent couple range from spontaneous sex in the bathroom (off) to being on the brink of breaking up and again the Waiter is implicated, while the pathetic husband redeems himself by flooring the two male art thieves.
Exemplary skills in building, advancing, incorporating and referring back produce a riveting hour of mixed-genre ensemble drama. I’m especially impressed with the way they clearly listen to those not in their immediate group and incorporate those elements too – none more so than the Waiter whose hearing must be very sharp, given the time he spends backstage. The way it all resolves – including the surprise over who gets the painting – is as pleasing as any well-crafted play and all the more entertaining for being improvised.
A momentous start, then to this ‘This Festival of Moments’.
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