You never know what’s going to happen when the subject is improvisation. And after a COVID-19 imposed hiatus, the fourth Improv Festival in Tel Aviv beginning on Thursday, June 9, will re-introduce Israelis to the wonders of long form improvisational theater. World-class talents in the field, among them Gael Doorneweerd-Perry and Dan Seyfried, will teach and perform during its three days.
Improv as an art form
Many associate improvisations with comedy due to television shows like Who’s Line is It Anyway, which aired in the late 1990s with Drew Carey serving as host. Others believe it has therapeutic value due to its emphasis on reading body language and learning to be in the moment.
Both concepts are somewhat true. Yet, the art form is much larger today thanks to the development of the long form improv. Carey addressed the studio audience asking its members to pitch ideas for the performers to work with as they invent short gags on-the-spot. Such back-and-forth dialogue between performers and audience members is the norm for short term improv. Long-form performances, however, are longer, totally unrehearsed and without script. They embark from a suggestion from the audience, who leans back and enjoys the ride.
Noted performances in that genre include Object of Affection by Gael Perry and Laura Doorneweerd, and Phil Lunn Is... by Phil Lunn. The British Lunn channels two distinct personalities, cabaret singer Phyllida and a fading popstar, who take spectators on a grand music improv experience.
“The audience is a partner to this singular creation, which cannot be reproduced – it is all taking place now,” festival founder Anna Preminger said.
“The excitement we experience is a lot like sports. Why do soccer spectators shout “Goal!”? Because it happened just now. The magic takes place right before our eyes, never to be repeated, and it is a powerful experience.”Anna Preminger
The journey to professional improv
Preminger studied acting and worked in the theater. Some of the productions she took part in, like the 2003 Mezritsh, ran for over one hundred performances. Yet she felt something was missing.
“I always wanted to do improvisation,” Preminger explained.
“In 2005, the Peoples Improv Theater (PIT) in New York City announced a competition,” she said.
“The PIT would offer a free course to the person who sends in the best letter explaining why he or she deserves a place in it and I won.”
FROM THE PIT she would continue to work with the Magnet Theater and Chicago’s iO Theater. As she describes it, at the time “an actor was somehow accepted [in Israel] as something like a profession. An improv performer did not really exist anywhere [here].”
She decided to bring the craft to this country and opened a school in 2007. When visitors climb the stairs to the studio space, they can enjoy historical theater ads Preminger obtained from the collection of late painter and costume designer Genia Berger. Berger designed sets and costumes for over one hundred productions at the Ohel Theater, the Habima Theater and the Israeli Opera.
“Today,” she pointed out, “there is a large network of improv performers around the world, from London to the Philippines.”
When asked why the stage in improv theater is black, she explains that “it is a neutral color, which allows us [performers] to stand out. Green makes us think of grass and pink would already color the performance with some emotion, black allows you to be at any place you can imagine.”
In long-form improv “the set is imaginary, as are the props, everything is created thanks to the cooperation between the performers and the audience,” she said.
For her, this is an intensely powerful and liberating experience for a performer or anyone who cares to try it.
On Thursday evening, participants will center their skills around the anime films of Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki. On Friday evening, the audience will witness an improv match between two groups and on Saturday evening, those visiting can try out improv without words.
This makes the English language workshops ideal for those readers who are interested but may be a bit behind with their ulpan lessons.
“People who take an improv class learn to work their flexibility muscle,” Preminger said. “Our motto is to say ‘yes, and’. We all wish to be more open to the world, to be more positive.”
As an instructor, Preminger noted that “it is a lot of fun to see students leave the workshop happy and smiling, seeing them come [to the school] from their offices and the lack of person-to-person communication to experience a soul-to-soul connection with people.”
The 4th Improvisational Theater Festival will take place at the Improv Theater between Thursday, June 9, and Saturday, June 11 at 32 Yitzhak Sharet St., Tel Aviv. NIS 75-85 per workshop or show, with a special offer for NIS 210 to purchase a Golden Ticket for access to all shows. Call 054-445-0913 or visit https://fest.improvtheater.co.il/en/ for more details.