Aiming to lead the growth of improvised comedy in Colombia, the protagonists from Bogotá’s Improvisual Project speak to Azzam Alkadhi
I tend to be a bit of a Grumpus at times. One of those annoying sods who ruins magic tricks, avoids the typical tourist hotspots and tries to find faults in the latest critically-acclaimed film, just to be different. I know, what a cynical hipster arse.
So when I went to see Improvisual Project for the first time, I had my grumpometer set to full and was about to settle in for a night of criticism, sighs and rolled eyes. But, seemingly in an attempt to frustrate and hamper my efforts (for there can hardly be any other reason), the comedians on stage derailed the surly train and had me in stitches, without respite, for over an hour.
Since its inception as a web format for improvisation comedy, Improvisual Project has rapidly grown into a wide-ranging offering, with not only stage shows and a street improv web series, but also a number of workshops and courses, as part of the Proyecto Escuela.
Director and performer David Moncada explains: “There are different ideas about improvisation. When people hear about improv they think about a comedy show with quick games – which we also do – but we have another focus, which is long format improvisation, something which is not so normal here in Colombia. It’s improvisation taken to a deeper level – they aren’t two or three minute bits, but seven to ten minutes, or even an hour for some shows.”
Their hilarious live performances – which have been included in FILBo 2014 and 2015, as well as this year’s Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro – come in a number of formats, with the group constantly trying to innovate and take improvisation to another level, as Moncada tells me: “Improv can be whatever you want in the moment, but what differentiates each of our formats is how we impose limits, upon which we then improvise.”
Yet it isn’t easy to be an improv artist in Colombia, with the group claiming that there are many obstacles to the growth of the industry, despite Improvisual Project having already won numerous awards and putting on successful workshops throughout Latin America.
Moncada – who spent time studying in Canada with one of the pioneers of improv Keith Johnstone and his famed Loose Moose theatre – explains: “In theatre circles, there are a lot of people who don’t see improvisation as an end in itself, but as a form of acting training. Our objective as a group and as a company is to have it considered as a serious contemporary theatre offering.
“When the Ministry [of Culture], Idartes, etc, are choosing acts, they do not accept improvisation. There aren’t many possibilities for us because people are already married to something that works.”
Perhaps unlike other industries, this is something which is being combated by groups and performers working hand in hand to support the growth of improv in Colombia.
The group’s producer, María Paula Franky, tells me: “There’s something very beautiful about the improvisation circle in Bogotá – they get together a lot and are constantly helping each other out. We have to come together to make improv grow.”
This desire to improve the reputation and professionalism in the improvisation circuit has led Improvisual Project to run a number of workshops, with their latest project – starting on August 2 – taking things to a whole new level.
“There is no comprehensive kind of training in Bogotá”, explains Moncada. “There are month-long courses, or even one or three day workshops. What we are doing is offering an academic programme of two years, in which a specific part of improv will be covered each semester […] One of the objectives of our Proyecto Escuela is to create a serious level of improv training, based on the development of competencies, as if it were a university.”
The first semester of this course, which hopes to create professional improvisation performers, focuses on creative impulses. It deals with the basic theoretical and practical concepts and the essential skills needed to be an improviser – from creative freedom and spontaneity, removing prejudices and blocks that stop people acting and creating freely to dealing with mistakes and turning them into a creative tool. The semester will end with a live performance.
Moncada tells me that the rehearsal and training process for improvisation is markedly different to other performance arts: “For a play, you rehearse and you practise. For improv, what you do is train your narrative skills, your creative abilities, your agility, your stage presence, your ability to live in the present with the other person, to not be affected – a number of tools that allow your spontaneity to flow when you are on stage.”
But if you’re not keen to take to the stage, you should be sure to check out one of their shows (keep an eye on our listings to stay informed), which are constantly evolving and surprising. Why not pop in to a few?
“People return a lot”, according to Moncada. “The fact that it is improvised means that you can see the same show as many times as you like and it will be different.”
After all, if these comics can get a self-proclaimed grouch to laugh until his bladder joins in, this writer is willing to bet that you’ll leave with an aching belly and overworked jaw (unfortunately very few bookies offer odds on this, so you’ll just have to believe me).
The first semester is made up of a nine-week course of 18 sessions, running from August 2 to September 28. Classes take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6pm to 9pm. The cost of the course is $520,000. For more information: [email protected], 316 4900105, www.improvisualproject.com