The Wishing Tree

The Garden Club, 13b Dixon Street, Wellington

07/12/2010 - 11/12/2010

BATS Theatre, Wellington

08/12/2009 - 12/12/2009

BATS Theatre, Wellington

20/11/2012 - 24/11/2012

Production Details


An enchanting new improv show, The Wishing Tree, comes to BATS Theatre from 8 – 12 December, presented by the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT). Based on a Japanese myth of love, luck and fate, a tree blossoms with genuine wishes as anonymously supplied by the audience.  These true desires become the inspiration for scenes that will transport audiences to a world where their own wishes are brought to life before their eyes.  Sometimes for good, other times for ill, and sometimes just for a laugh.

The Wishing Tree premiered during the 2009 New Zealand Improv Festival with a one-off show comprising performers from troupes across New Zealand and Australia. Described as “elegant and touching” (Salient Magazine), by popular demand WIT is bringing this show back to Wellington audiences who missed out on the sold-out show during the Festival.

WIT Co-Creative Director, Christine Brooks, describes the concept as “a different kind of improv. A lot of improv shows are a bit of fun, but can end up being pretty disposable, like a comedy version of a one night stand. The Wishing Tree creates improvised theatre that I want to remember in the morning.”

Based on a format created by Rama Nicholas of Impro Melbourne, The Wishing Tree has been performed around the world, from Belgium to Seattle, inspiring performers and audience alike.

“We all have dreams, goals and desires,” says Brooks, “but how much do we think about them? Sometimes you get what you think you’ve always wanted and it’s kind of disappointing or you get something unexpected and it’s great! The Wishing Tree allows people to reflect on their desires and wishes in a fun, open way. It’s thrilling to be able to entertain people and make them think at the same time.”

Starring WIT regulars from improvised soap The Young and the Witless, Derek Flores, Simon Smith, Anton van Helden, Paul Sullivan, Christine Brooks and others, The Wishing Tree will bring your true desires to life in a unique theatre experience this December.

BATS Theatre

8 – 12 December 2009
Performance dates and times:
Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 December, 2009; 7pm
$16 full / $13 concession

Bookings at BATS Theatre:
(04) 802 4175 or email  

2010 season

Tuesday 7 December – Saturday 11 December
 8pm, The Garden Club (13 Dixon Street)

Tickets available from 

2012 season: 
20-24 November @ 7pm 
BATS Theatre 
Tickets $18 / $14 / $15 Groups 6+ 
Book now!  Or call BATS on 04 802 4175 


Performers and the lighting operator rotate. Those who created the opening night show are italicised.

Karen Anslow, Christine Brooks, Derek Flores, Anton Van Helden, Jen Mason, Merrilee McCoy, Geoff Simmons, Simon Smith, Paul Sullivan, Wiremu Tuhiwai, plus special guests (on opening night: Eric Amber)

Musician: Sebastian Morgan-Lynch|

Simon Smith (Designer),Brenton Hodgson, Justin Latchford, Darryn Walls, Wiremu Tuhiwai 

CAST 2010
Christine Brooks, Derek Flores, Ralph McCubbin Howell, Nicky Hill, Merrilee McCoy, Mark Scott
Simon Smith, Paul Sullivan 

Returning to BATS Theatre, The Wishing Tree is New Zealand's magical season of improvised theatre. 

Cast 2012:


Energetic and fun, if a bit uneven

Review by Lori Leigh 21st Nov 2012

The Wishing Tree, developed by Melbourne improviser Rama Nicolas and based on a Japanese myth, is not only fun but also a clever format for a long-form improvised show.  

Unlike short-form improvisational theatre, or Theatresports, where a show is made up of series of brief, unrelated scenes based on predetermined games, long-form is typically a series of scenes that are interwoven by plot, character, and/or theme. 

There are many structures that can be applied to long-form improvisation and often a very enjoyable aspect of seeing a long-form show is the format. (Many long-running troupes and theatres have signature long-form structures such as MUSICAL! the musical, a two act completely improvised Broadway-style musical, or the quintessential Harold, performed at Chicago’s IO and at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.)

Nicolas’s The Wishing Tree is inspired by the Japanese Tanabata where people write their true wishes anonymously, hang them on a bamboo tree, and hope the gods will answer them. Here, the audience becomes the wishers and the improvisers, the gods. 

In the foyer of BATS Theatre audience members write their wishes on slips of paper, and the wishes hang on a tree on stage. Using only two white pieces of fabric as masking and a few brown crates, the actors randomly pick wishes to fulfil through improvisation.  WIT (Wellington Improvisation Troupe) has utilised The Wishing Tree format for multiple return seasons of a holiday-inspired show. 

Part of the fun is the various points-of-view on wishing itself. On opening night, the wishes ranged from heartfelt to absurd. Scenes were created around wishes such as I wish . . . “dinosaurs were friendly and alive”, “the press reported the facts”, and “my cat would stop catching wetas, mice, etc.” 

The ensemble should be applauded for the bravado and enthusiasm with which they threw themselves into each wish.  Particularly nice was their use of space. The performers created interesting compositions and also were not afraid to quickly clamber up to the upper-level door in BATS mid-scene to fashion a surprise entrance.

Though the show began with much laughter and an engaged audience, it did seem to fizzle out midway. The ask-for (suggestion) that consumed most of the show’s time and thus the actors’ energies was “I wish Wellington really were Middle Earth.” This transformed into a series of scenes about a hobbit on Cuba Street, with John Key as an antagonist. It ended in a rather predictable place with a “gay shirt” joke.  Though current events are great material for comedy, here nothing novel was offered and the comedy felt forced and strained. In a long-form show with such a brilliant structure and a clearly talented cast I had hoped for more grounding, relationships, connection, and truth in comedy.

That this was somewhat of a struggle on opening night as evidenced by blocked offers (such as a pair of glasses thrown onstage and neglected in a scene inspired by the plight of man who wants to be as attractive as glasses-wearing men) and a lack of relationships in scenework.

Another time, a wish to “be a rapper in Victorian England” was read. Energetically the entire cast stormed the stage to a self-created beat.  The group energy was nothing short of dynamic and hilarious lines surfaced such as “Darcy, a bit of an arsy” and “Horse and carriage mother fucker”.  Again, though, a single player took the brunt of the rap and without much support it quickly dissipated. This was a missed opportunity to share verses and end the rap climatically. 

Sometimes unnoticed in improv, the technical elements of the show were a highlight. The troupe was accompanied by a Cellist (Sebastian Morgan-Lynch) who did an excellent job of spontaneously adding atmosphere to the scenes. The lighting operator (Ashlyn Smith) was also on-her-toes in following the actors (even at the upper-level) with her lights.

Finally, it was nice to have the middle aisle removed at BATS for a sense of cohesion among the audience, especially useful in a type of theatre that aims to be totally interactive.

The Wishing Tree is an exciting long-form improv, played by an energetic group of actors. Opening night was somewhat uneven but no doubt the team will solidify its ensemble playing in the nights to come.  


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Proactive conviction and generous interactivity

Review by John Smythe 08th Dec 2010

There is a hum in the air at The Garden Bar, from the air conditioning or maybe the fridges in the bar at the back of the auditorium. This is no problem for amplified stand-up comedy or musical shows but for The Wishing Tree – or anything else not using microphones – a seat near the front is recommended at this venue.

Last year, when the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) planted their tree at Bats (link to review below), the intimacy and ambience was enchanting.  This year it’s in danger of appearing relatively ho-hum, because of the low hum and the high stage placed in a relatively cavernous space devoid of backing flats.  While I know WIT prefers to draw us in rather than blast us with projected performance, more energy is needed here to fully engage us.

The mythical premise remains: “Once a year (on the night of the show) two stars align. They represent a prince and a princess who are in love and are married, but have been separated throughout the year by the Milky Way. Once a year they get their wish to be together. It’s an auspicious day for wishes to come true because the gods are happy the lovers are together. The gods often wander through the sacred forests and if they find your wish hanging on the tree – it might come true.”

So each audience member is asked to write a truly heartfelt wish on a tag and hang it on the potted tree at the front of the stage. Then, as Sebastian Morgan Lynch gets us ‘in the mood’ with his cello, each of the performers – all 8 on opening night – randomly pluck a wish from a twig. On opening night most went for the low-hanging fruit.

By my count 7 got a run so presumably one was prejudged a dud. One gets read out, someone initiates an action, others join in if and when they feel inspired to contribute … and when another player senses it’s time to move on, they claim the space to read the next wish. All this happens on impulse and most scenarios are returned to. Thus – like a soap opera, or perhaps more like channel-hopping, given the differences in style and genre – a number of stories play out in brief episodes.

Just one ended – with a ritual ripping if the tag – after one scene only. A wish that the seal killers would be found led to a bewildered American tourist asking his mate what happened: “When you said let’s go clubbing …” Knowing when a ‘gag’ has reached its full potential is a major skill in this form of improv.

The wish to retire from work and explore the world progressed in ways that surprised even the participants, not least when a voice from the side declared that this pleasant experience (on a Venetian gondola) would turn out to be the most extraordinary experience the tourist had ever had. Upping the stakes to challenge each other is another way of boosting creative energy.

A happy wedding wish (I didn’t catch the details) precipitated a pseudo Shakespearean scenario that often achieved rhyming couplets while playing out the deep-felt emotions caused by an absent husband /father being supplanted by a present lover. A duel at the end saw the flawed father floored. Brilliant.

Ingeniously the wish for NZ to acquire a better cricket team focussed on a bloke with extraordinary natural talents hiding away with Kiwi recalcitrance. The desire for Santa to “tickle my feet with a feather” suffered from being too obviously funny as an idea. Seriously sincere wishes usually generate better comedy.

That said, the desire to win Lotto and a wish to be blonde both produced well-formed cautionary tales that amusingly took the ‘be careful what you wish for’ route.

My preference is for scenarios that grow as offer builds on offer, without anyone dictating too much in one burst. More than once on opening night one actor stood sponge-like while another infused him with a paragraph of exposition about his character and the scene yet to come. That does represent a challenge, I guess, but it’s not as interesting as witnessing group creativity moment by moment, knowing no one person is in control.

Overall, however, the WITs do improvise impressively with proactive conviction and generous interactivity, exhibiting a collective sensibility that ensures a good result. That my companion and I felt moved to recount the details of some scenarios on the way home, and admire the skills that brought them into fruition, bodes well for this Wishing Tree season.

Kudos, then, to Christine Brooks, Derek Flores, Ralph McCubbin Howell, Nicky Hill, Merrilee McCoy, Mark Scott, Simon Smith and Paul Sullivan, plus Sebastian Morgan Lynch on cello and Darryn Woods on lighting.


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In the lap of the theatre gods

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 11th Dec 2009

In the foyer of Bats Theatre stands a wishing tree on which audience members can write (anonymously) on a piece of paper a wish, which is then tied onto a branch. When the show starts the tree is ceremoniously brought on stage and we are told that "to night two stars align" and that often Japanese gods wander through sacred forests and if they find your wish hanging on a tree they might make it come true.

The emphasis is on the word ‘might’ as the members of the improvisation team called WIT (Wellington Improvisation Troupe) are the gods who take your wish and do what they will with it, which may not necessarily be what you want though the rest of the audience will probably have had a good time laughing at the results.

This is of course a nice gimmick to get the improvisers interesting and off the-cuff material to exhibit their skills but they have a further challenge because half-a-dozen or so wishes are introduced and then played out in short sequences (as in TV comedy sketch programmes like Little Britain) throughout the hour long show until either their invention flags or the story can be brought to a neat conclusion.

Some of the wishes on the opening night were: I wish for serenity, I wish for a unified qualifications framework, I wish I had more time, and I wish to reignite my passion for life and creativity. Some of the wishes were fairly quickly dropped and others ran the course of the hour, but in each case the ten improvisers were involved whether as leading characters or as a prop such as a portrait of a dead husband or a ticking clock or an airport x-ray machine or as a passing pedestrian.

Like all improvisation shows each night is in the lap of the gods, and all I can say is that on the opening night the ten made me laugh a lot, they worked well as a team, and unlike TV’s  Whose Line Is It Anyway? nothing can edited, which makes me admire their considerable theatrical bravery.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Stories we can relate to

Review by John Smythe 09th Dec 2009

Improv groups are always looking for new ways to create shows predicated on the basic principle that dramatic interactions, inspired by randomly selected input from the audience, are conjured from nothing before our very eyes. 

The Wishing Tree format, created at an Impro Melbourne Festival, was first transplanted to Wellington during the 2009 New Zealand Improv Festival with a one-off show comprising performers from troupes across New Zealand and Australia. Now the Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) has revived it for the festive season.

Based on an ancient Japanese myth (click on the title above to see more), it asserts that this happens to be the day of the year that is most auspicious for wishes to be granted by the gods. As we enter the theatre we are invited to write our most heartfelt wish on a piece of paper and hang in on the wishing tree – which then gets brought into the performing space to start the show.

Tip: for best results, take the time to write legibly or your offer will get mangled.

Each performer randomly selects a wish from the tree, one is read out provoking instant action and interaction from whoever chooses to run with it; then another, and another … Thus a selection of improvised stories begin to unfold. And once a few have been established, they randomly return for their next evolutionary stage, at the instigation of one of the actors.

It becomes quite a feat, for performers and audience alike, to keep track of who is being whom in which scenario.

All the while cellist Sebastian Morgan-Lynch adds mood music and sfx, and one of the team at the lighting board illuminates the action with sensitivity. Some of the performers need to learn how to find their light, however. To often legs and torsos feature more than faces.

Sometimes a story will be revitalised when an actor, who has not previously been involved in it, becomes its narrator, not so much dictating the action as raising questions that refresh the actors’ inspiration. As always there is a fine line between contributing and controlling. The assertive offering of constructive contribution is crucial. Conversely being a wimp or leaving your colleagues to flounder when you could offer help is a no-no.  

The cumulative effect is of a soap opera juggling multiple plot-lines, or – given the discrete nature of each story – perhaps it’s more like stop-start flicking between a number of recorded dramas. When the instigator feels a scenario has done its dash, they ceremoniously tear up the piece of paper that started it all, announcing, "The story of this wish has ended."

Opening night produced (amongst others) a granddad seeking serenity amid rumbustious grandchildren; the poignant tale of a woman waiting in vain for ‘him’ to propose; an always-late man who never had enough time, for his wife especially; a queuing couple hoping to meet Lady Gaga, which evolved into a stalking ex-girlfriend story (with the meeting and the requirement to include a pair of jumping stilts only just integrated); a couple in a retirement home seeking to reignite their passion for love and creativity …

Someone’s wish for "a unified qualifications framework" got an instant laugh from the audience and inspired a short and punchy satirical sketch in which an education machine spat out well-measured but un-questing robotic students.

A lengthy wish involving someone’s Nana being able to live forever in a mortgage-free house provoked a scenario which nearly got derailed because the manic Nana wouldn’t stop talking, leaving the poor bloke at her door – from the electricity lines company – unable to contribute, or that’s how it seemed to me. But his, "We have to take your house," was all the stronger for being almost all he said. A cat contributed a menacing presence and ubiquitous portraits of Nana’s dead husband inspired a twist that suddenly elevated it into a dark tale of ruthless survival.

The avowed aim of the Wishing Tree format is to "allow people to reflect on their desires and wishes in a fun, open way" and to move beyond the comedy version of a one night stand. "The Wishing Tree creates improvised theatre that I want to remember in the morning," is how director Christine Brooks explains it.

When a wish is heart-felt rather than a jokey challenge, the result can be as efficacious playback theatre because we have a greater sense of individual and collective ownership.

On opening night a number of scenarios did succeed in creating realistic characters whose fate we came to care about as they confronted barriers to desires with which we could readily empathise. Perhaps this is why an invited couple – who clearly had not clocked the implications of the Wellington Improvisation Troupe’s name, let alone the mechanics of this show’s set up – opined that it was pretty good and wanted to know who had written it.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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