Friday, 15 April 2011

A Long Time in the Works

Nathan Keates is a playful character and creator of Ludus Ludius in Cardiff. Pretty much every week he will cover the full width of the country to attend a workshop or show in London. That's enthusiasm you can't buy (or it is about the price of a return ticket to Wales).
"British improvisation has been developing for many years but it seems quite recent that more people are getting really excited about long-form. By watching the increasing list on the Crunchy Frog Collective site we can constantly see more groups, but predominantly these are short-form. We have had many short-form groups appear and develop and this will always be the case, and it seems like long-form is more of an American thing.

In my discussion with people from all over the world, from Mexico to Italy, I can be sure to say that there are wonderful formats being played – from one man with his suggestions stuck over him playing out the scenes on his own, to teams of hockey-style players playing Match Impro. There are varying competitive formats, from Scared Scriptless in Australia to TheatreSports in Canada (these are not solely played in these locations, but merely examples). The intended audience makes styles vary hugely, as we look at The Noise Next Door touring the UK comedy club circuit with their quick-fire short-form, and those that perform family shows like Crayons in Tulsa, America.

But what long-form is available to watch on our damp little island? There is a lot around. I recall coming back from Edinburgh Fringe ’10 and speaking to a friend who saw the same long-form show as I did. I loved it and he didn’t. The great differences in opinion is perhaps what drives the massive contrast in what this country has. In the UK we have seen only short-form on our television screens. However, over the last few years on the radio we have had some lovely long-form, including the recent Showstopper Improvised Musical on BBC Radio.

Variety can also be seen in the festivals we have had. The one-off Shifti, produced by Fluxx’s Chris Johnston, was probably the most diverse, collecting all sorts of improvised shows from around the world. We have had festivals in Bristol, Bristol Jam that’s now heading for it's third year. This year we saw the fourth 50-hour Improvathon by The Sticking Place, and Animo by Improbable. These were both long-form productions that were both fantastic. Even with our London festival, Slapdash [returning this year], we saw a large amount of long-form showing; like Music Box – musical stars who are residents at the London Improv Comedy Club.

The love of long-form has no doubt always been around. The growth of this style of the improv artform is therefore completely diverse. Formats that have sprung up like 'La Ronde', 'Beast', 'Harold', 'Henry', 'Rupert' and even 'Sybil' (that I have had a few attempts at) have each got their structures that make them different.

In America I noted that there are a lot of genre-based long-form productions, for example David Shore’s Monkey Toast talk-show. There have been looks at long-forming independent movies and now the UK has a murder mystery. Improbable’s Animo was in fact their first production, originally performed in 1996. The interest has been around for quite some time. Also, we have a lot of interest in musical improvisation, which can be seen by various groups performing it within shows, and some that only do music. We've already mentioned two groups that are devoted to musicals.

The influx of practitioners coming to the UK has always been useful and productive. Outside influence brings and creates new styles, and approaches that push and further the art form. Alan Marriott lived in London for a while and his mark is still frequently spotted. Each of his returns to the country signals some form of metaphorical parade. I have a massive personal investment in his current activities, as my aspirations to actively do applied improvisation for autism is an event that he is involved with in Canada at the moment. With visits from Montreal Improv and Jen Goodhue, amongst others, we have gained a lot of fantastic insight from their vast experience. Now we have the acclaimed David Shore from the Canadian lands regularly producing Harold shows with Hoopla!. And he is coaching regular groups in a traditional American long-form way. The are only a few of the practitioners we've met. These are indeed exciting times for long-form to emerge. Even British players have traveled for training and returned to share the wisdom and alternative focuses that give that marvelous new approach.

The fact is that we improvisers all have our different interests in the art of improvisation, be it long-form, short-form, contact improv or even the more dance or physical improvisation styles. However, long-form is one that I do really enjoy and wish to see and do more of. So with a huge impression from the outside influence, be it possible for it to settle and stay. With that - and those who are traveling for the training and bringing that joy back - we can be excited and happy about the possibility of more long-form."

Nathan Keates

1 comment:

  1. Spike Theatre have been performing a long form show called "hoof!' for the past 6 years. We worked with Todd Stashwick and John Thies who created 'The beast'. I have family in Cardiff and visit regularly if you fancy a session in spontaneous theatre next time I am down I would be happy to oblige. Hoof took a years break, to try some new things and we are looking to tour again in the new year.

    all the best

    Mark Smith