WellingSIN City

Fringe Bar, Cnr Cuba & Vivian, Wellington

10/05/2009 - 24/05/2009

Production Details

A totally improvised noir where YOU call the shots!

Murder, Revenge, Justice, Improv… following in the tradition of Bogart, Rooney, and Bacall, explore the mean streets and dark underbelly of WellingSIN CITY; an improvised noir where YOU call the shots.  Six of Wellington’s best improvisors explore and develop the classic tradition of noir in 70 minutes of action, intrigue, and double dealing. 

Artistic Director Steven Youngblood thinks the time is right to bring improvised noir to the public: "Noir is definitely in the public consciousness.  Movies like Sin City, Max Payne, Brick and The Good German are making noir popular again.  We’re very excited about seeing Wellington through the hazy veneer of post-war prejudice and mistrust.  Throw in the current climate of recession, and I think we have a show that Wellington can really get into." 

Audiences can expect more WellingSIN City than just some light giggles "while there will be some very big laughs, the humour will come from events and motivations within the story, rather than some of the glossy schtick you may find on televised improv."

We all have our demons, but how we exorcise them is up to you.  From the people that brought you "To Be Continued", "Love Possibly", and "The Young and the Witless". 

Dates:  7pm, Sunday 10, 17, and 24 May
Venue:  Fringe Bar, cnr Vivian and Cuba
Tickets:  $15/13
Bookings:  book@wit.org.nz   


Derek Flores
Simon Smith
Chelsea Hughes
Steven Youngblood
Christine Brooks
Lindon Hood

Saxophone: John Wooley

Paul Sullivan
Anton van Helden

Lights:  Woody Tuhiwai


Noir show could be more transparent

Review by John Smythe 11th May 2009

A bar, a stage, a few rows of chairs dotted with the odd round table. As the gathering crowd buy and sip drinks, chatting between themselves, nothing seems too remarkable. That’s if you take no notice of the snappily dressed people lurking beyond a big black curtain. Yet everyone knows: this a place where anything can happen and hopefully will.

A saxy solo (from John Wooley) lays the mood for Derek Flores to introduce WellingSIN City in classic noir style: "You can’t beat it on a good day, when the rain comes at you from three different directions …(etc)"

The storytelling styles of Dashiell Hammett (creator of private detective Sam Spade) and Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlow) are employed to develop, by a range of ensemble improv techniques, tales that suck us inexorably into the dark underbelly of WellingSIN City.

Not that – on this first of three Sundays in May – a private dick led the story, on a quest to solve a mystery or some problem for a client. Instead, with minimal input from the audience – a place (Karori), an emotion (fear), a creature (cat) – we got intercutting and converging tales of ‘Fear in Karori’, involving dastardly scams in Zealandia (previously the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary) and ‘Black Cat City’, involving nefarious activities in an illicit Newtown casino.

W.I.T’s practiced team of players (Flores, Simon Smith, Chelsea Hughes, Steven Youngblood, Christine Brooks, Lindon Hood), aided, abetted and sometimes further challenged by two scenographers (Paul Sullivan & Anton van Helden) and a lights operator (Woody Tuhiwai), create by listening and responding, acting and reacting, accepting offers and upping the ante.

The audience at the first performance seems well satisfied. Me too. Lots of laughs. But I am left wondering how many of the characters and settings – e.g. the casino boss and his femme fatale partner – were pre-determined and slotted in. I’m not saying they were, just that there was nothing about the set up that showed us that was impossible.

Maybe more attention can be paid to making the process more transparent.
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. 



niall jarman May 25th, 2009

 dane, not so much with your point being proved, there.  i think you'll find that derek left the door swinging open, but it was you who happily smacked yourself in the face with that crowing comment.  now that's irony.  do you also go to the latest craptastic action blockbuster film and declare that therefore, cinema's a waste of time?  maybe you do?  magic.

john - while you generously thank derek for his contribution, what of the substance?  what he's talking about - to use your own terminology, the "terms of engagement", have never involved the particular buy-in that you demand.  surely you think that work sets up its own terms of engagement and critical response tease out these differences, right?  so plays in verse don't get attacked for their lack of naturalism, even while (to rework a phrasing you're fond of), they quite happily distil something artistically authentic in their own terms.  jazz musicians may or may not respond to what an audience is "giving them", and there's often structures, patterns, but jazz critics would be pretty nonplussed by this whole problem with making the improvisation "transparent".  i think it's as simple as derek says: audiences feel included and regard it as transparent, and then it reads as unfolding right then and there.  if you decide it's not transparent, then you might still enjoy the show, but i can't really see how the process of setting up the show will simply change your mind.   

this discussion is especially weird because new zealand has great impro audiences, is disproportionately gifted with world class improvising performers, and i can tell you that their work stands up very well indeed internationally.    

[This discussion has now been moved to a Forum: Improv - the rules of engagement]

John Smythe May 25th, 2009

First, congratulations to Derek Flores for winning the Spirit of the Festival Wellington award – very well deserved as anyone who caught a show at the Fringe Bar will attest. Second, thank you Derek for your passion for improv, and your willingness to articulate its essence from time to time when the need arises.

Personally I think the ‘trust factor’ is key to our enjoyment of improv-based shows. As for ‘corpsing’ – I have a low tolerance for that at the best of times and the slighted whiff that it was contrived as an ego-boosting ‘star aggrandisement’ device (as suggested by Dane) would be a total turn-off for me.

Corpsing in a scripted and rehearsed show is pretty well unforgiveable. In an improv show, however, it is probably inevitable. When it happens, what interests me most is how quickly the actors can get over it and return to the illusion of ‘being’ their character in the magically evolving scenario.

Dane Giraud May 25th, 2009

Oh, dear. Coming at me with such a quaility quip really drove my point home!

derek flores May 25th, 2009

perhaps i am being a bit precious when it comes to improv, as it has been my career since i was a teenager and it has seen me able to travel around the world and perform in various festivals, but when any of my shows are advertised as improvsied they are just that; improvised.  fully created on the spot.  no scenarios or bits rehearsed or choreographed.

the format may be run through to fully service the improv, but the stories themselves are unique to each and every night.  some themes may reoccur especially if a genre long form is being played, but the dialouge and actions are as new to the performers as to the audience.  and yes, to a certain extent the bottom line is if the show is funny-especially when included in a comedy festival, but improv can do so much more. 

improv to me represents the joyful acceptance of failure.  this is what keith johnstone bred into me as neophyte improviser over 20 years ago and it is what still drives my work.  the audience is in on "it", that they are privy to moments that will not, can not,  ever be reproduced again.  we don't need to get audience suggestions for every scene to prove we are making it up.  when a company gets it right the audience knows its made up, the improvisers know its made up-everyone is buzzing on the energy when it all clicks.  and thats what keeps me coming back.

and lets face it 90% of people named Dane are dicks with their broad sweeping generalisations of a genre of comedy theatre.  just because you may not like the show doesn't mean you should write off all of improv.

Dane Giraud May 24th, 2009

I have no problem with people faking improvs - if it makes a piece funny, and THAT to me should be all the audience is concerned with anyhow. Many of the great comic performers through time, like say the Benny Hill and the John Inman's of the world would carefully rehearse, for instance, the moment in the show when the supporting actors (Bob Todd and co.) would crack up and not to able to carry on with the routine due to the wit of the lead performer... We, as audience members, see it and think 'wow, what a cut up it would be to work with that guy!' but at the end of the day it was just schtick!

Let's be frank now, improv and theatre sports sucks out loud 99% of the time. So much so that it should really be banned and its repeat offenders shot and thrown in mass graves. In light of such, a little bit of fore-thought, surely, should be welcomed!

nik smythe May 24th, 2009

 In my review of Mark Watson I mentioned his spontaneous riff on the water bottle commented on by the audience.  It was so ingenious I was already suspicious, and this was confirmed reading Scott Kara's review from a different night.  He faked the improv, which sure it takes a modicum of magic away, but i quite simply do not mind because he obeyed the singular golden rule (be funny).  Anyone belly laughing at any routine like I did at that and then criticises the authenticity of the work needs to look at what they regard as important in comedy, and perhaps life.

As far as improv shows go, the level of slickness and skill in Pulp William made it evident they had rehearsed a range of possible scenarios based on the conventions of Shakespeare and Tarantino, and it's even possible various routines were to some degree repeated from earlier evenings.  Again, it was generally hilarious and probably much more so than totally cold improv would have produced - all very well in theatresports but liable to turn to custard in a single 1 1/2 hr thematically driven story. 

Often one thinks  'that would make a great 'real' show!' of appealing improvisations but as John points out, this changes the terms of engagement and as such would require more substance for an audience to embrace it.

Mac May 24th, 2009

In many ways for me, it matters not whether the show is "really" improvised or not - what matters is whether the actors on stage can invite me into the story they are telling and hold my attention there.

It's whether the characters are 3D and interesting, whether the actors believe what they are doing onstage at any given moment.

Improv gives performers a chance to be 100% in the moment, because they literally do not know what is going to happen next. If they are convinced by what they are doing, then I will be too.

This principle applies for me whenever I attend theatre - whether the show is scripted or not.

Whilst it might be briefly funny to see an actor get multiple complicated offers from an audience and jump about like a monkey onstage, I feel it takes the focus away from the possibilities of story and character and into quick laughs. Whilst the audience might have a giggle, do they leave changed by this theatrical experience?

When I see a show, I want to feel it. That's what matters to me.

John Smythe May 19th, 2009

What are the terms of engagement? That is the key question for me. Audience expectations at a production of a scripted play which has been fully developed, designed and rehearsed are completely different from expectations of, or responses to, an improv production. It is fundamental, then, that the audience needs to know what kind of show they have come to.

Improvisers are very clear (I hope) that when a long form improv goes very well on the night, that is not their cue to transcribe it into a script and put it into full rehearsed production. It wouldn’t work, because the terms of engagement have changed.  

Pete Lead May 19th, 2009

I understand the improviser's desire to make the process transparent for audiences; to prove to the audience that what they are doing is improvised. I imagine that some audiences want to see that - want to be in on the process because they find it funnier or more impressive that way. It happens, and that is one type of improv show. It can go horribly wrong, however, as improvisers put more and more unnecessary elements in the show just to prove they are making it up.

It sounds like WIT were going for a different type of show this time; a show that is good on its own merits, without relying on the schtick of "it's improvised" or "let's ask the audience to throw something in to make it more difficult."

Reviewing an improv show must be hard. As an improviser I have read many reviews of improv shows that just don't get the point. Some of these were written by improvisers, who couldn't see past the particular format of the show, or a particular moment in the show that they would have done differently. Then again, I've read many reviews of scripted shows that equally don't get the point.

Derek mentioned passion, and I think that's what it's all about. Improvisers improvise not to impress (or fool) an audience, but because they love improvising.

Jenny Wynter May 16th, 2009

All the more reason for audience members to make repeat trips to see the same improv show multiple times! Seems to me that's one way to make everybody happy. :)

derek flores May 12th, 2009

after 20 years as an improviser, in countless festivals and various tournaments all over the world, i have grown tired yet accepting of reviewers who can not seem to accept that if a show is labled "improvised" and then is funny, tight, and with narrative that somehow there must be a controlled aspect to it;  like it is a surprise that an improvised show can actually contain all the aspect of a written show.
we rehearse to create a format not to create scenarios to use and re use.  we use archetypes but do not plug in characters in pre determined scenes.  we improvise. all made up on the spot.
john i understand your point of wanting to let the audience in on the process, and it is one i grapple with, but world wide there is an improv movement to use suggestions only as a stepping stone and not as the rule to 'inspire' scenes.  i, and many other NZ groups, are working here and abroad to bring a respectability to improv as a viable form of theatre, and to call into question its 'made-up-ness' hurts.  yes it is a compliment in a way, "so good that it seems written", but there is some written stuff i don't want to be linked to. 
i am an improviser.  everything i do within an improvised show is 100% made up on the spot without any forethought or pre determination.  this is my career and my passion.

John Smythe May 12th, 2009

If Mr McManaway was a fish ’n chip critic and didn’t identify the components of a package he was reviewing he would not be doing his job. If I leaned over to another audience member as we were watching a show and started to dissect and analyse it, I should be booted out and banned for life. That, I think, is the apposite comparison, Tommy.

Tommy Honey May 12th, 2009

My best friend at primary school was Noel McManaway.  His father was a fisherman.  When we had fish and chips at their place, Mr McManaway would lean over, take your fish, pull it apart with his fingers and pronounce" hmph, snapper", to the protestations of his wife.  John, your obsession with how improvisers improvise and devisers devise is ruining our fish and chips.  Just sit back and squeeze your lemon...

John Smythe May 12th, 2009

Thanks for that clarification, Penny. I’ve always felt a key component of live improv is that the audience is let in on the game. It is the spontaneous invention based on offers supplied by the audience, the interweaving, the referring back to pick up elements established early and the bringing it all together in a conclusion/ resolution/ dénouement that amazes, impresses and entertains us.
To have archetypes on standby – characters in search of a story – is fine. I’m just wondering how much of that could/ should be revealed in the introduction.

Penny Ashton May 11th, 2009

 In long form improv on a genre theme certain character archetypes and settings do indeed recur.  Eg in Austen Found there is often a woman of a certain age looking to marry, or a silly sister or an overbearing mother and we rehearse these a LOT.  The dialogue, plot and character stories are however entirely improvised around the rules of the genre according to the information we get.   It's how you make the genre authentic and the audience responds to what it knows and the delights come from the parody of these archetypes.
It's essentially a compliment to query the improv because they must be so good as to think it was rehearsed.  That's a common question too; "So how much of that was improvised?" when it all is.  
I don't usually jump onto comment on here BUT I think it's a valid thing to point out to our audiences that there is a lot of skill and rehearsal behind improv, but all the action is truly made up on the spot.

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