Impro World Tour

Ramblings and Wonderings of a world of Improvisation
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ISABELLA! (an inspiring improviser)



Women in improvisation (and often in life) become the shadows of the men they stand on stage with. Many groups aspire to draw women into their company only to pigeon-hole them into the roles of mothers, daughters, sexual images and princesses. It’s a tired, dark observation and a tedious, slow changing reality.

I’d like you to meet someone. Her name is Isabella.

I met her three days ago and was instantly inspired by her intelligence, humour, ability and strength. Isabella is a dark haired, Italian Improviser who speaks many languages, skilled in character work, literature, poetry and the star of her company. She started when she was 14 and quickly became the co-organizer of her troupe. She has performed for Kings, Queens and politicians as well as kids and people on the street. She is recognized as possibly the BEST improviser you might ever meet.

Here’s her secret.

She is respected and was given opportunity to express herself. AND she expressed herself. And she owned the space where she stood. She embraced all sides of her gender, personality, social background, and being. She did what all good improvisers do. She improvised with vulnerability and strength in balance. She is not a female improviser. She is an improviser in a group of improvisers. She makes no apologies for what she has to offer and no aggressive fight to be more than what she brings to the stage.

Isabella Adreini… died giving birth to a child on the way back to Italy after a show in France.

I met Isabella on Wikipedia while researching an article on commedia dell’arte?Isabella Andreini

Isabella Adreini (1562 – 10 June 1604) was a member of one of the first and most influential Commedia groups –Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi. At 14 she began performances with The Gelosi.   At a time when there were few if any women on stages anywhere in the world, Isabella became a star.

She wrote. She improvised in an art form that didn’t even have it’s formal name until years later. Eventually she ran the company with the man she married.

There are many distinguishing events in her life where she broke the mould of who she should be and became the person she was.

In 1601 she was integrated into the literary society of the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia. She was a published playwright and poet. There was an account of one performance that thrilled the audience with her ability to imitate all the characters in the play including the men, the various languages and dialects and characters. One of the stock characters of commedia dell’arte was fashioned after her portrayal and is known by her name, Isabella.

After her death, the city of Lyon gave her a tribute that was akin to a state funeral. But it was her husband, Francesco Andreini who gave her the highest symbol of honour. So shaken by the death of his Isabella, Francesco announced the immediate end to the company.  A great performer in his own right, Francesco Andreini never performed again. He spent the rest of his days compiling, publishing and promoting Isabella’s written work.

By all accounts Isabella Andreini enjoyed what she did. She was exceptional at it and did it with passion. She helped make her style of Improvisation popular and made women on stage possible.

Pioneers who step from the known world into the unknown, leave this place with more light than the one they were born into. An improviser is always looking for that darkness to shed light on. Where the moth is drawn to the safety of light, good improvisers are pulled by the mystery in the shadows.   Where there is nothing, define.  Where there is little of worth, make it better.  Where there is ignorance, shed light.




A character pulls a weapon and the audience turns to you… What will you do? How will you react?   Your reaction – NOT THE THREAT is the scene. It is the drama that makes us want to watch or turn the channel.

If you’ve ever heard of magician David Blaine, you’ll remember that his first massive impact on the public was with a tv show On May 19, 1997 called “Street Magic”. It wasn’t the magic that made the show, it was the reaction from the audience.  Penn Jilette (Penn and Teller) said:

  “The biggest breakthrough done in our lifetime was David Blaine’s Street Magic, where his idea was to do really simple tricks but to concentrate… to turn the camera around on the people watching instead of the people doing. So to make the audience watch the audience, which that first special Street Magic, is the best TV magic special ever done and really, really does break new ground.”

David Blaine didn’t SELL the trick like most magicians begging us to believe the importance of his work.  He under-stated it with phrases like, “Does this look weird to you?”  He let the audience reaction move us to believe it was totally weird and amazingly amazing.

The reaction tells us the level of importance about the act.  It also informs us.

If you laugh, cry or scream, you supply important information about the scene. You tell the audience who you are and what might happen. Do nothing, and the audience is left outside. If you do nothing and then continue to do nothing, the audience feels that you are part of another tribe that eventually they will lose interest because they can’t relate to someone who they have nothing in common with.

There’s an interesting game that Keith Johnstone sometimes plays with students. Basically he makes you do a scene with a stuffed animal. It’s important that the animal has big, “alive” eyes. The roomate walks in and the stuffed animal is sitting there on the sofa staring forward. The performer speaks to it:

“I know, I know, I promised I wouldn’t go out to the casino anymore but I lost our money…”

What does the audience do? Most of them look towards the stuffed animal.

These aren’t stupid people. They know that the wide eyed, fluffy, blue bear will do absolutely nothing.  Hard wired into our beings is that desire to see what the story is.  And the important part of the story is the REACTION from our partner. You can picture your ancestor waving a stick at a wild beast and watching if the fanged creature shows signs of fear or anger. The story is important. It’s life and death.

React big and the audience reacts big with you. React artificially, out of context of your character  and the audience will pull back. But, as most of us UNDER react, there’s a lot more room for response than you might imagine.

Give something back when an offer has been made. Let your partner know they’ve been heard. Show the audience who you are. Those who argue that the perpetual straight face, immovable, stoicism is dramatic and strong might want to watch any of a number of Hollywood bombs where the hero is impervious to any emotional change. They succeed in defeating the villain and the audience leaves as unmoved as the hero.



A telephone rings, ANSWER IT!

A vampire bites, REACT TO IT!

A person speaks, LISTEN TO THEM.

The obvious isn’t the easiest.  Watch a show where the performers constantly miss what the audience wants.  They still get a laugh but they miss the oppurtunity for a better story or bigger laugh or other emotion.

The stress that forms in our brain when we feel the expectation of our audience and partners makes us do a number of things:

  1. We doubt that our initial idea is good enough
  2. We look for BIG ideas
  3. We panic and fall back on stereotypes and crutches
  4. We miss the obvious
  5. Thinks just get wierd


What to do?

BE OBVIOUS… Don’t entertain for a couple of seconds and just look around, listen and know that you aren’t responsible for this moment.  Someone else will take up the slack. Believe it or not… giving up a little bit will help the audience connect to you better.  It’s the audience who gladly takes up the slack as they observe (like good improvisers) what the scene is all about and what the individuals are offering.  Be at least as good as the audience.

Trying to be BETTER than the audience actually makes you worse.  If you could see just like them, you could give them what they want and then you would be good enough.  And then… you would be good.




What’s the BEST thing I could write??!!?  That’s why there’s not more writing here in the old blogosphere! You think, “What would be good to write here? What would be REALLY special??! WHAT WOULD BE SO MIND BLOWING AWESOMELY AMAZING THAT IT WOULD MAKE PEOPLE’S EYES WATER WITH VISUAL DELIGHT??!!?” And then you think of it.

You come up with something REALLY GOOD.

And then you think… OK… Got it. But… IF I came up with something that’s good, I must have something better. Ohhh something really blindingly spine bending.

Then you come up with it. YES!!!

Then what do you do?!? (Come on, you know where I’m going).


And ten months later you are coming up with this Skin ripping eye burning, jaw clenching monkey twisting fantastic stuff that NOBODY will ever know about because you are always thinking, IT ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH.

Happens all the time. The first TV show is OK. You turn the channel… and again you turn the channel. In the 10,000 channel reality, you turn the channel for a half an hour and decide on the show you originaly thought was pretty decent. Then you realised it’s just about done because you’ve been looking forward instead of seeing what’s in front of you.

How many of you are in relationships and looking out at someone else and thinking of “TRADING UP” if you know what i mean? “I can do better than you!”

Yeah… I’ll tell you something; the unknown new exciting person is going to often look on the surface better than the old, known ‘significant other’ whom you’ve heard fart, seen in sickness and heard YELL at you about something insane (it’s always about something insane).

I’m not saying settle. I’m just explaining ONE reason why I don’t write as much as I could write. Also… I am explaining why as improvisers people often mess up their work.

Stop LOOKING so hard. Express NOW. There probably IS a better idea but there are a lot of worse ideas too and if you look too hard, no matter how good the idea is, everyone will be unimpressed because the birth of the idea, word or thought was just too painful to watch.


Condensed Festivals… An alternate face for impro gatherings


On September 26 in Bogota, Colombia, the fast and physical La Gata will be hosting a mini international festival with Nadine Antler from Germany and Shawn Kinley from Canada.  For 10 days we will play and perform in a slightly different kind of a get together.

What we usually expect from an improvisation festival is a partyfest of shows, groups and get togethers, with a smattering of workshops.  I don’t mind these things but I always leave feeling like I didn’t meet everyone I wanted to, nor did I get enough time with the people I met.  On top of that, where some festivals program so many shows on top of each other, you rarely get to see everyone work… especially when groups perform only once or twice.

LaGata’s get together will be focussed a little more on the mixing and sharing of ideas, concentrating on the relationship of fewer people.  festival time for improvisers

In 2010, the Loose Moose hosted a similar event at “The Summit”.  It was a two week event with La Gata and Teatre Isenkram from Oslo, Norway.  It was great.

The focus was on exploration and workshops.  Keith Johnstone was in for a couple of days and we all hosted days of workshops with each other.

The thing I like about these gatherings is that you  get to play with each other.  You learn some skills and you get to work with each other multiple times on stage.

In a reality of increasing costs for flights and accommodation, this might be a reasonable alternative to the multi-group events that see each group perform only once or twice per visit.

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