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Why I improvise

Since 2005 I’ve performed a Danny Kaye tribute show.  He is fading from the memories of those who saw him at his peak in the 1940’s and 50’s. Audiences of the day adored his crazy antics on stage and film.  He had (and still has) legions of loyal fans. In 1950 he was acknowledged as the greatest entertainer in the world. He had tightly rehearsed songs and routines, but he improvised A LOT. Audiences knew they were ALIVE because his interaction with them was so unpredictable, and so joyous as a result – because he PLAYED.

There are mixed views on his complex personality.  Most commentators say he was only really truly himself on stage – giving his all to the audience. As a kid I was drawn to his movies and records. Recently when touring, an old school mate reminded me that I used to recite Danny Kaye nonsense in the playground aged 7!  I loved Danny's energy and his characters and the delight he would have in his performances. He lived to perform.

I live to go on holidays, however I also have a certain addiction to performing. My most ALIVE moments onstage have always been the spontaneous ones. Even after hundreds of performances of A Midsummer Nights Dream under the stars, the most vivid memories are the improvised moments – the fornicating possums upstaging us; the spider dropping in on a thread terrifying the audience; low-flying planes necessitating an incredible ad-lib (in iambic pentameter of course).

Discovering Theatresports and being part of that form of improvisation was life changing: huge audiences here in Melbourne in the 1980’s; the TV series on ABC; tournaments in Canada and the US.  This led to exploring improvised performance in all its forms: Harold (that’s a whole other blog!); Spontaneous Broadway (ditto!); Troupe Du Jour corporate entertainment; Late Night Improv at The Melbourne Comedy Festival – (which I began in 1996); and many, many other forms.

Not every improvised performance is a cracker, but neither is every scripted theatre show, comedian or live act you see worth five stars.

But it’s not about that. It’s about the shared experience with the audience. Improvised shows are one of the rare ways you can create something on the spot, and the audience and performer rely on each other.  It’s a very special bond. And it demands and inspires special behaviours: the performers try and make each other shine, and the audience give permission for it to fail. When it does - if the performers are resilient, good sports, agile thinkers and risk-takers – it is hilarious. When it succeeds, it is magical.  The best improv shows always have a couple of dud moments, and in a flash the players have moved on and create sketches, songs and stories that are sublime. And that is addictive!  

People howl with laughter at our shows not only because its funny, but at the audacity that we are making it up on the spot. AND it's about THEM! I love making people laugh, but I also treasure the feeling that "we're all in it together!"

But don't just listen to me about why I improvise....  This video contains a review of Late Night Improv from Comikaze. It sums up perfectly the feeling that audiences have when they have witnessed a kick-ass improv show from real professionals. Nick’s is such a beautiful tribute to the power of improv. Please sit through the ads and the other reviews. Late Nite Improv is #56. And yes that is Decent Person Sarah Kinsella in the pic next to the incredible Rik Brown!