FirstAct: Improv Comedy Bangalore on taking spontaneous theatre online

Beginning this week, we're presenting FirstAct — collaborations with theatre and improv artists from all over India, who'll perform short pieces or readings over a Zoom video-conferencing call.

FirstAct's first act is an improv show with Improv Comedy Bangalore. It will be broadcast LIVE on our Facebook page at 8. 30 pm IST on 22 May 2020.

Meet the members —

Laxmi Priya: Perpetual energy machine and lover of all things movement and spontaneous theatre.

Bala V: Accents and characters on fleek. She takes work and play equally seriously. Cat whisperer.

Shweta Bhat: Psychologist by day. Improviser by twilight. Asleep by midnight. Also dons the hats of poet, writer and actor.

Arjun Mehra: Artistic director of Improv Comedy Bangalore. Loves food and cooking almost as much as improv.

Faraz MR: Techie but despises the title. Loves all things stage, lighting, music and improv.

 FirstAct: Improv Comedy Bangalore on taking spontaneous theatre online

Arjun, Laxmi, Bala, Shweta, and Faraz.

The concept for the performance —

Arjun: The live performance we’re putting together with Firstpost is about old connections resurfacing during the coronavirus lockdown due to a Zoom video call. The nature of spontaneous theatre is such that it is made up on the spot and so, our dialogues, characters, plot will be based on the prompts given to us by the audience.

Most memorable performance —

Bala: A few of mine are when a cat strolled onto our set mid-scene and I decided to chase after it as part of the scene while in-character. There was another time when the audience graciously held up their phone flashlights to help us continue with the show during a power cut. I particularly enjoy scenes (as a viewer and a performer) where the scene partners enjoy each others' offers so much that it looks like they are on a secret adventure. These are usually characterised by huge grins, contained giggles and a serious nod of acknowledgement.

The 'ism' associated most with your repertoire —

Bala: Feminism. Self reflective and an attempt at intersectionalism with a long road to travel, but a road we want to travel.

Arjun: I’d agree with Bala. We try hard to put the best and most intelligent versions of ourselves on stage, and that would include being thoughtful, inclusive and sensitive. It’s a long process and it needs to be done.

Best way to recover from a mistake during a show —

Bala: Improvisers fundamentally do not believe in mistakes, they're all opportunities. Real life is rife with 'mistakes' and we either get up and dust ourselves off or we run with the new normal. Improv is the same in a lot of ways!

Laxmi: Mistakes often are seen as deviations from the 'ought tos'. Improv is made up on the scene and when the fundamental tenets of improvisation — collaboration, acknowledgement and listening — are present, it is unlikely that a deviation would be a mistake.

Shweta: Regularly training my improv muscle has taught me, on stage and in life, to glow with the flow, be kind to myself and turn errors into human interactions that foster connection and vulnerability.

Arjun: It’s also really easy to fall into the post-show trap of beating yourself up for a choice you made on stage. Hindsight is powerful and dangerous. The key is to trust the choices you’ve made in the show as the best choice of the moment.

Upsides and downsides to moving the stage online —

Arjun: I miss having the audience physically present. The noise, the cheer, the applause, the chit-chat before the show — there are so many moments outside of the performance itself that make the evening memorable. But it’s been great to be able to put on shows from home, for people in their homes. Moreover, for the first time, we’ve been able to have an audience from all over the country and beyond. Besides, the audience members have been so participative, even blowing up the 'chat' section with virtual applause and comments. It’s precious to see them go the extra mile and try to bridge the gap between the physical and digital.

Additionally, we’re waking up at odd hours to watch groups in San Francisco, Toronto, Bogota, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Dubai, etc put on their shows. Oddly enough, the community seems more connected than ever before. We’ve had the privilege to play with some of these groups as well, waking up as early as 7.30 am and staying up till as late as 2.30 am to be part of a show. It’s brilliant.

How the digital space, especially platforms like Zoom, Google video conference, has reoriented approach to production —

Bala: In improv, the performers feed off of having a live audience they can interact with and their reactions act as a gauge for us. Not having that has made me double down on my choices with more confidence and conviction.

Arjun: From a performance and story perspective, the limitations of technology with the internet and audio lags have forced us to slow down and listen better. That’s so essential when you’re making up stuff on the fly, and it’s just the two of you up on ‘stage’. We’re looking for more connections, inventive playfulness with props and costumes, and playing relatively distraction-free.

Production-wise, we’ve had to rework a lot of the formats that worked on stage, for the screen. We’ve taken some pages out of the more established theatres across the world and tested our own home formats for the digital space. Again, it’s all a work in progress, but we’ve achieved reasonable results.

A tip for creatively getting through collectively stressful times —

Bala: Doodling, journaling, picking up something you've never tried before (perhaps improv?)

Laxmi: Journaling, therapy

Shweta: Weirdly enough, doing chores while listening to your favourite podcast

Updated Date: May 23, 2020 09:26:05 IST

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