BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

20/10/2017 - 20/10/2017

NZ Improv Festival 2017

Production Details

It is the future, and everything has changed. Except for improv. Improv never changes.  

There are many ways the world could end: zombie uprising, brains uploaded into computers, conquest by super-intelligent bees. But whatever happens, one thing is certain: there will always be improvisers asking you to come to their show. In The Improv Show at the End of the World you will decide how the world is coming to an end, and our brave improvisers will try and take your mind off that apocalypse the only way they know how.

The Improv Show at the End of the World is one of NZIF’s World Premieres: five brand new experimental works devised by top directors and participants especially for this festival. Across the week every cast, crew, and production will come together in unique combinations, creating spontaneous comedy and theatre every single night. With these incredible improvisers and directors from all around New Zealand (and the world!), you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat every time.

BATS Theatre1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
Friday, October 20, 2017

Theatre , Improv ,

1 hr

Audience eager to collaborate in the end

Review by James McKinnon 21st Oct 2017

In more ways than one, The Improv Show at the End of the World realises a dream. Most obviously, as a dream team of expert improvisers, the performers (and musician Robbie Ellis) live up to the hype. They have good chemistry, timing, and energy – there is never a dull or slow moment. This virtuosity is accessible (and audibly appreciated by) to everyone in the house – which is itself dominated by skilled improvisers, because the show is a marquee event at an international improv festival.

But I also have a special, personal appreciation for what this performance achieved. Two years ago, some of my collaborators hit on the idea of a lampoon of improv comedy, in which the actors play androids who are themselves playing a troupe of terrible improvisers. This idea became the two-minute play ‘Needs Improv-ment’, one of my favourite bits in Brututum Zum Pum: A Neo-Futurist Cabaret. But pulling off a two minute scripted parody of bad improvisation pales in comparison to what The Improv Show at the End of the World achieves: a thorough, detailed, and completely improvised exploration of the potential of a self-parodic improv performance, which becomes not just the content of a scene but the frame of the entire performance.

It is a brilliant gambit, and a bold one, because while a house full of improvisers (only a single spectator admits to never having been to an improv show before) may be the only audience that could fully appreciate such a sustained parody of the form, it would also be the quickest to tire of a badly executed running joke about improv which, once begun, the performers have no alternative but to keep running.

This is even more impressive because the conceit is itself improvised. The Improv Show at the End of the World puns on the location, but is literally pitched as an exploration of “the end of the world”, a time in the future in which everything has changed. Almost everything, as the teaser says, with a nod to the post-apocalyptic game Fallout 4: “Improv never changes.”

The audience gets to decide how the world will end and the actors explore this provocation using the Armando format: a long-form improv framework (named after Chicago improvisor Armando Diaz) in which an actor improvises a monologue or story based on the audience provocation and the troupe then improvises scenes based on the monologue. 

Guided by the host through a significantly more thorough process of deliberation than the usual ‘first thing someone shouts out’ method of soliciting audience feedback, we decide that the world will end with a rise of the machines, or robot rebellion. But it is the performers who decide to explore that provocation by performing the whole show as an improv troupe comprised of the rebellious robots themselves (a conceit uncannily similar to the provocation for Brututum Zum Pum). The resulting scenes plumb the depths of this idea, finding both laughing matter and surprisingly sophisticated insights.

Reflecting the fact that robots are engineered by and for people, these post-Anthropocene android players still retain recognisably anthropomorphic forms and human-like personalities. Although their sense of identity is rooted in their pride in casting off the yoke of their human overlords, they seem unaware of the irony implied by their maintenance of human practices like live performance. The fact that the supposedly self-emancipated robots are still stuck in and recycling the forms and routines developed by their creators (and presumably programmed into the machines by those creators), makes us wonder how liberated these robots really are – but since the clichés they seem to be stuck in are the inherited from or even programmed by us, our impulse to ridicule them reflects back on us.  

Over the duration of the performance, the performers skilfully remember, reincorporate and further investigate the implications of throwaway gags and invented post-apocalyptic jargon from earlier scenes. These deeper examinations of previously introduced notions and scenarios give the whole post-apocalyptic world a sense of depth and realness rarely achievable in improvisation, where fictional worlds are created but also discarded, very quickly, and where often only very basic plot-critical details ever emerge. For example, the conceit of being rebooted or reset, introduced as a cheap gag, provides fodder for sustained investigation in later scenes.

The audience, too, is not only able to appreciate the development of these rich details, but also eager to assist by throwing out callbacks and responding to prompts in the role of the post-revolutionary robot audience (“Is anyone here on their first reset?” etc.). Everyone in the room is eager to collaborate in the creation of the end of the world, which was a lot better than it might sound.


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