Improv Theatre in India – A fledgling art
Ever watched ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ or ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ If you have then you know a thing or two about improv. Every now and then we see an actor charm their way into our senses by improvising on the spur. Music legend R.D Burman was known to improvise spontaneously with beats and rhythms – even bringing in new musical instruments as the notes evolved in his head.
What is Improv?
To put it simply, improvisation is a technique where the performer gives a performance by building on the script, plot and dialogue – impromptu – mostly using feedback from the audience, without any script based rehearsals. While the Indian theatre scene as a whole has been reinvigorated in recent years, has the same happened for improvisation theatre genre in India?
Improvisation has traditionally been a part of standard acting learning techniques where the skill of performing instinctively and spontaneously is important. Generally, the improvisation genre has been associated with shortform comedy, where the actors perform short scenes based on a theme and/or audience suggestions. Lesser known genres include longform comedy, playback theatre, forum theatre and other experimental theatre genres.
Improv in India
Yours Truly Theatre, Bangalore
One of the oldest improv groups in India, founded more than a decade ago, Yours Truly has more than 300 performances to its credit. The group has delved in multiple experimental forms of theatre, ranging from playback and forum to mushaira and even sports. If there is something experimental transpiring on the enthusiastic theatre scene of Bangalore, one can expect this group to be involved. Recent productions include Bhagwan Dhundoo, Common Man and Final Touches.
Centre for Community Dialogue and Change (CCDC), Bangalore – Theatre for the Oppressed
CCDC is a group primarily focusing on Theatre for the Oppressed – a theatrical form conceptualized by the revered Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal and developed as an educational technique. The group conducts regular workshops in both educational and medical humanities. Theatre for the Oppressed is primarily driven and conducted by a neutral facilitator while both spectators and actors participate actively. The idea is to conduct dialogue between the audience and the performer, roping the engaged audience into the act thoroughly. Theatre for the Oppressed is a very effective tool for bringing about social awareness among the masses, primarily owing to its heavy emphasis on audience interactivity.
Improv Comedy, Mumbai
Started in 2009, Improv Comedy, Mumbai is dedicated to the improvisation comedy genre. The group specializes in impromptu acts in the Theatre Sports and Theatre Bollywood formats. The former comprises of two teams of performers, competing with each other based on audience suggestions and feedback while a panel of judges narrows down the winner. The other is Improv Bollywood where audience suggestions lead to a 40-minute improv imitation of a Bollywood movie with love songs and dialogue. The group has performed for a large number of corporate clients.
Schitzengiggles was started to provide local comedians a platform to showcase their talent and is now a well-known name on the circuit. Schitzengiggles has a core team of 5 comedians, best known for their stand-up acts. The group is a regular act at the Canvas Laugh Factory, Mumbai – a prominent auditorium in the city.
The Audience and the Challenge
Indian audiences have only recently started displaying tastes sophisticated enough to consider experimental theatrical formats a significant chunk of the theatre pie. However, improv continues to go more or less unnoticed. In fact it has mostly been used as a medium for social change. Commendable as that may be, the intrinsically more popular format of shortform comedy is almost unknown and groups dedicated to it, like the Improv Comedy Mumbai (ICM) continue to prefer international gigs to find their due recognition.
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