Tag Archive: improguise


Close to 13 years of doing Improv with Megan Furniss and differing amounts of years with the rest of this crazy bunch i usually get to hang with on a Monday evening.

Making stuff up.

cow

And to be absolutely honest, i had been getting a little tired of the same old formula, week in, week out, and so when i was about to leave for a month to go overseas again, in one sense i was looking for a break.

Not that it had always been the same – for the last three years, the players of Improguise have put on the most amazing festival in January, which, despite living overseas at the time, i just happened to be at each time. So i was able to be in a full length documentary, a South African soapie, a full length completely made-musical as well as take part in two other forms of show we have all taken to: Namely Superscene and Stuck in the Middle [which are both a little bit of mayhem]

i had mentioned it to Megan who had been feeling similar and the whole group jumped at the idea and so the last class before i left South Africa we decided to perform a different type of show every week with the traditional ‘Whose Line?’ type show being just one of the many shows]

And then i left the country. With much jealousy. Of the good kind that cheers and celebrates and is excited to hear of the different types of shows happening in my absence including a documentary and a road trip.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Tonite was my first show back.

And we played a Superscene which i describe as Survivor Improv where five directors give the premise for the next scene we will see in their movie and everyone else acts that scene out. Then each director shares what will be coming up next and by way of Clapometer [loudness of audience clap] the audience decides which story they don’t want to continue and the other 4 then play out their next scenes. And so on, until we are left with one final scene which is the Superscene.

And tonite the winner was Carolyn and i was her star lead actor Neville, an Afrikaans young man with a passion for dance and a mother who was against it.

But actually we were ALL winners. From the tiny audience of 12 who braved it out [and all wished they’d brought more friends afterwards] to each of the crazies who acted and corpsed their hearts out on the stage.

milk

Because we really did have zombie cows [who shot guns at people and gave heartfelt speeches] and a Cactus Milk Tattooist who created white tattoos [Zabhira from India who had grown jaded with Indian culture from watching American You Tube videos growing up and moved to America where she won over her father to the lifestyle and Americanised him in a ‘Pretty Woman’ type montage] and of course the plants [poisonous banana types] who while not quite saying “Ni” [semi-obscure-Monty-Python reference] mumbled something like Randy-ni-ni-ni-ni which was close enough. There may have been an edgy and insane Mad Maxesque road chase we never got to see enough of as it was eliminated way before its time. And a cheap and grumpy ghostly ouma who had trouble speaking as all her ‘N’s were switched to ‘M’s.

ni'

Thank-you Megan and Carolyn and Ardine and Tandi and Ryan and Ashley and also Hilton for working the lights. And the rest of the crew who could not be there tonight.

You’ve helped make Improv fun again. Because it has once again become unpredictable. This coming Monday we will be performing a Stuck In The Middle [one actor stuck on stage the whole night while the rest of the team create a host of different scenes with that person] with the proceeds going to uThando leNkosi place of safety for children as a part of the Mandela Day 67 minutes celebrations. So let’s pack the house. For a good cause. And for amazing laughs.

Looking very much forward to next week when we get to make it up all over again.

For more information on our times of shows and prices and how to book and organise for us to play at your school, poker club or seniors tea, click here and if you’re on the Twitterer, make sure you add @ImproGuiseSA to follow us around.

And see you next week…

elephant

i have a good friend called Megan Furniss and we like to make things up.

a lot!

Megan was responsible for pretty much bringing Improv to Cape Town in the form of TheatreSports [now Improguise: Players of TheatreSports] which quickly became Cape Town’s longest running and much loved show. And best kept secret, it seems at some times, although at the moment we are doing some highly experimental and completely fun shows [different formats every week] at the Galloway Theatre just outside of the Waterfront in town. Mondays at 7.30pm – you should come watch! Especially if you haven’t for a while. We also just recently did our first ever Duet two player show of Improvment and it was SO MUCH FUN we are both [i think] looking forward to the next one…

ImpromptuBrettMegan

Megan also has a huge love/hate [or maybe love/frustrate might be a more accurate term] relationship with South Africa and is one of the most proudly South African person i know who is not me, [when it comes to the good stuff] , and one of the most outspoken, incensed, head-shaking, finger-wagging, hair-pulling-out person when it comes to the bad and the ugly.

i, on the other hand [which actually looks remarkably familiar to the first hand] love Improv and the opportunity to be creative in the moment and the freedom of having no script and especially the quick-thinking word-play aspects of it and i have a full-on committed loving relationship with South Africa as can be witnessed here. Just try telling me i am not African. It is in my blood, pale though it be.

Megan and i also have strong thoughts, emotions and feelings towards race-related elephants, i mean issues in our land. i have dedicated a large section of my blog to creating space for conversations around the topic of race and for the most part [as i am not expert] inviting others to share their stories, thoughts and ideas to help us find ways to move forward more productively in South Africa and beyond. Megan has done a lot of Corporate Improv work with middle to senior management of companies and noticed a huge need for conversations of race which are the aforementioned elephant in the room.

Long story short: Megan and i are looking to combine our love of Improv with our heart for South Africa and start making more of a practical difference. We have designed a three hour workshop that looks to use Improv exercises and story-telling aspects to help create a safe space where people can begin the conversations of race that feel so necessary in so many areas of the work-place. And we are hoping to start running them from July when i return to South Africa. 

If you would like to know more and think this is something your work should invest in, you can get hold of Megan at megan@improvision.co.za or myself at brettfish@hotmail.com.

Let’s be honest – a 3 hour workshop is not going to solve the race problems in your workplace… but being the unspoken, unacknowledged, awkward elephant in the room [as it still sadly is in so many places] it is going to be a great way of kickstarting some of the conversations and movement that needs to follow… Help us help you…

race

Imagine waking up one morning and going online and seeing a semi-naked-sprawled-out-on-the-bed-alongside-your-Improv-friend picture of yourself circling the internet…

Cause for panic, right? You’d think so, unless the picture was this one:

ImpromptuBrettMegan

Which i woke up to a week or so ago and was like ‘Holy Crapamole, what’s my wife going to think?’

Fortunately tbV was awake and laughing at it in the other room and so we just jumped on the banned wagon and helped spread it around.

WE GOT YOU, BABE

The purpose of the poster i had previously been aware of and that was the oncoming event [which started last night] of a week of Imprompt2 shows where FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, the incredible Megan Furniss [who imported Improv to Cape Town and began TheatreSports, now Improguise, Cape Town’s longest running show and apparently best kept secret] is going to do a night of two person Improv with a different person every night from Tues to Saturday.

The shows are each going to be slightly longer than that last sentence, at 55 minutes, and will be played with the incredible Anne Hirsch, Ryan Jales, Carolyn Lewis and finished off by Tandi Buchan. aka this beautiful bunch:

Imp

55 minutes on stage doing Improv with no other backup, no members waiting on the side of the stage to jump in and save, no muso to provide background music or the base for a song, and two settings of light: mostly on and mostly off. This is Improv almost at its dangerous best [it’s absolute dangerous best would be last year when Megan performed a one-woman Improv show].

Was i nervous? Absolutely. But more that i would be too similiar characters throughout the show [didn’t happen] or that the 5 people we had booked by late afternoon would be it [wasn’t – we had a delightful audience] but for the show itself i was excited anticipationary, adrenalin-filled and just so ready to Go Go Go!

THE SHOW

Let’s get this right out there. You had to be there. And so if you weren’t, whatever words follow are largely just for me and possibly to help you become really sad that you missed it and that besides our generous loving invested audience, no-one else will ever see what happened ever again. But i can try give you a glimpse…

We literally had NO IDEA what we were going to do. We had one light ‘rule’ that we were going to try and use, or not, which was that one way of changing scene would be to take a word, phrase or sentence that the other actor had spoken and repeat it as a way to start a brand new scene.

So we interviewed the audience. “What did any of you expect to see tonight? Or hope you would see? Or want to see?” They stared back at us. Nothing.

“Okay, so let’s bring it down a notch. Does anyone have a favourite colour?” Red.

“What does red make you think of?” Roses. [We’re getting somewhere, slooooowly]

“And what do roses make you think of?” Love. Thorns. “Ah, so we have the optimistic romantic side of the audience over here and the cynical bunch over there.” [nervous laugh]

So then Megan got bold with, “So can anyone share a story they have which involves a rose?”

No lies. From right at the back, someone [who, let’s be honest is a friend of mine] speaks out, “I once smelled a rose.”

We look at each other. Maybe we should just start.

And so we did. And without having a clue where anything would go, and with not a single accent, character or idea i’d been practising in front of my mirror all day emerging at any point [yay for that] we produced some magic and the majority of it was really pretty amazing, and some was really odd, and a whole lot of the really odd stuff was pretty amazing.

One of the oddest moments, and personal highlights of the show was an interaction between Megan and i where she from the left of the stage called out to me, sitting on a chair at the right and eventually came over to join me, clearly climbing over rows of things to get to me.

“Where’d you get all the sticks?”

“I bought them… at the hardware store.”

[pause] “Why do they have all those fingers on them?”

“To keep the badgers away.”

[pause] “But there are no badgers here?”

“Yes, they’re really effective.”

You can. not. make. that. stuff. up.

Oh, but we did, and more. [And if you heard the creepy accents we were using for that scene, just imagine it 1000 times better]

But from Megan’s Energiser Bunny skills demonstration for a secretary job interview, to pulling a Spanish guy out of the audience to interrogate him [who only said “Que?” and who i thought was taking the piss, but turned out to be really just a Spanish guy and so completely Fawlty Towers moment right there], to King of the Ice Throne [which you can’t lick!] whose bird Gabriel had to be eaten when he ran out of snacks, to the waitress at the French Cafe who offered ‘Cafe de Mime’ which is a coffee and mime combo, to being asked to dictate a 13 word poem, where each word rhymed, had three syllables and ended with X [which technically i pulled off, even if the ‘X’ was silent] to a weird strange alien creature who spoke in garbled sounds interaction, to telepathic CV’s, an on the spot song called ‘There’s a Fish in my Wine Glass’, a funeral where the roses had been made out of paper mache [by the woman, whose mom had died,’s husband’s ex] and finishing off with a Captain Jack counselling session featuring some Pilates of the Caribbean which you couldn’t really observe because it was all core.

And probably more  – it was incredible to see what we fit into 55 minutes – but it was dangerous [pulling an audience member on stage] and delightful and risky and fun and brilliant and when i walked off the stage i was instantly disappointed that Anne, Ryan, Carolyn and Tandi were playing the next four nights and not Brett, Brett, Brett and Brett. Except that they will be great and there will be a slightly different format per show and i really wish i could watch them all.

This is addictive stuff people. Be warned.

And so Big Huge Giant Tremendous thanks to Megan for trusting me and letting me go first and kick the week off. And for just absolutely diving in with everything and being so generous in both taking and receiving offers. i look forward to Impromt2 II

If you’re in Cape Town, GO AND WATCH A SHOW – Tuesday to Thursday. Do it!

megbrett

i met Megan Choritz, wow, 17 years ago?

As you can see, it started out quite daunting – the person who brought Improv to Cape Town in the form of TheatreSports, now Improguise, Cape Town’s longest running show [and best kept secret somehow].

But pretty soon i had gained confidence and the tables had been turned…

brettmeganears

Although some might not use ‘daunted’ in quite the same way, but i’m telling you, behind those fingers-in-ears is pure dauntment!

So we’ve played together for probably 13 years [as i was overseas for some of them] and made some of the most fabulous stuff up based on a word or theme or idea from an audience member or MC and it has been truly magical.

And scary. It’s always the teensiest tiniest bit of scary. Because you NEVER KNOW what is going to happen on stage. You never know what your partner will bring. And when it’s Megan who is one of the best ever, then it really could be completely anything. But at the very same time, you never have to really be scared, because TheatreSports is one of the most generous art forms out there and there is ALWAYS someone ready to save, to jump in and rescue, to MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD.

i was privileged to be there when Megan Choritz disappeared and in her place stood Megan Furniss, married to ‘Big Friendly’ as she calls him, the most unusual pairing initially with Brenton being a tall gentle computer programmy guy and Megan… well, not being that. And yet it has been one of the most beautiful relationships to watch. So much powerful and yet gentle love, so evident. Wow. She even wrote some great marriage advice for my blog as someone busy with their 10th year of marriage.

meg2

Improv has been great but there is another exciting journey ahead that i can’t wait for. In March Megan wrote a piece for my people who give me hope in South Africa series which was somewhat awkwardly about me, but highlighted in some of the best ways the incredible way two such-diverse people [especially when religion is concerned – HEY, COME BACK HERE!] can remain good friends and interact on such a deep level in some areas. Both with a huge bleeding heart for this beloved country of ours we have decided to do something about it. We have designed a three hour workshop which will help groups of people who work together get to the point of being able to speak about that elephant in the room of race. With the “Yes, lets!” and “Teamwork” nature of Improv and specifically through story-telling we hope to prepare people to be able to engage in a healthy way and really start listening to each other and get conversation started. If you would like to know more, get hold of me and ask…

But back to scary…

We are VERY excited to announce Megan’s upcoming show called Impromp2 which is as it kind of suggests, a night of Improv with just two people. I am very honoured to be kicking the week off on Tuesday 17th May with Megan, and then every night after that a different member of our Improv group will be joining her each evening. It is going to be taking place at the most delightful Alexander Bar on Strand Street in town. Two improvisors, one stage and EVERYTHING ELSE made up on the spot for an entire hour. No backup crew. No-one waiting on the side to jump in and save. It’s going to be completely scary and i can. not. wait. Come and watch. [and you should probably book tickets as soon as you can cos it’s not the hugest venue and i imagine they will be snapped up soon]

Also Megan will not be too amped to hear that one of the funnest things in life for me is a Megan corpse [to clarify: that means when someone breaks out of character to laugh, not the other one] and so Impromp2 will not be completely incredible unless we can sneak in one of those…

Megan Furniss and Brett “Fish” Anderson… like the Murtaugh and Riggs of the Improvising world… long may we continue [yes, it’s okay that you had to look that up]…

Also it’s high time she followed me for a change and Megan has just joined a group of us who are doing Tandem Blogging where each week we get a title and have to blog whatever comes out of that as you can see with our most recent one on ‘The Art of Boredom’ for which you can find Megan’s perfectly captured piece over here.

ts

played out a western as former Marshall, Sheriff Marshall Coltson, last night [yes, Colt Son as in son of a gun – with my memory it helps to have some kind of word association going so i can remember my own name, although Megan did call me Cranston at one stage which was particularly [Breaking] bad, but that happens…] at the Kalk Bay theatre as part of the ongoing Improguise Festival…

it was my last show personally as i am about to jump on a plane to head back to Americaland, but the festival continues through Saturday and you should really give it a watch if you can – some magical stuff happening on that stage…

in March, we [they] are going to be running the next TheatreSports course [which i am convinced in my headbrain that everyone should do at least once] which is an excellent way to set free your creative juices, to experience amazing teamwork and to conquer [or at least push back to the fringes] any inhibitions you may have. i highly recommend the experience. only a few people are invited afterwards to join our crazy crew, but each person walks away having learnt and experienced some incredible lessons which they can apply to all areas of life…

Yes, Lets.

one of the first lessons you learn when doing improvisation is the concept of ‘Yes, lets,’ something we could all use more of.

if i start a story with the line, ‘Hey do you want to go to the beach’ and your response is ‘No, thanks,’ then the story has died. One of us has to come up with a new offer of a story and we have wasted a lot of time. So it is important to say “Yes, lets” and then work together on how we can make a great story.

this is such a beautiful lesson and it would really be amazing if we could all embrace that generally in life.

Yes, and…

the second one is like it. even if i am not such a big fan of your offer of us going to the beach because we’ve done so many scenes on the beach and it feels like a bit of a boring story to me, i can invite the philosophy of ‘Yes, and…’ which means giving your idea a big “Yes” and then adding something that will add to your idea… So, “Yes, let’s go to the beach. I heard that Professor Klugelman just dug up the bones of a mammoth there last night.” suddenly the beach story is not the typical one we are used to – the “And…” has given it new life and direction and together we have a more exciting story.

taking someone’s suggestion or idea and adding something to it is another way we could live bigger lives – i get super amped when i see how creative people are on Facebook and You Tube with photography and music and art and so much more and it is often done with an eye on a laugh or a good feeling or creating for the sake of creating. i get triply superstoked when people start using that same kind of creativity towards things like poverty and AIDS and homelessness and come up with creative “Yes, and…” ideas for seeing new endings to boring and sad old stories that we have grown used to and often just accepted as the norm.

This is not for my laugh

one of the hardest lessons i learnt playing TheatreSports [or to be honest am still very much in the process of learning] was that of realising that it is a team game and my job is to make the team look good, to give someone else the best laugh – we are selfish creatures [especially when comedy is concerned] and grabbing the biggest laugh for ourselves is always a huge temptation [for me anyways].

i feel like i really did well at this in the three shows i performed with the festival this year. but suddenly i started noticing when others were not doing the same thing. and it made me both irritated and frustrated. but the worst part was recognising myself in there – knowing that it used to always be me going for the cheap or easy [or at times clever] laugh often at the expense of story or the team. and so i have come to see the value of playing for the team – if i look particularly good, then the rest of the team starts to look bad by comparison and that is not fun [i have done that and i have received that].

again, such a powerful less0n that would be well applied to life – working for the team, the group and then extending that to the family, the neighborhood and the community.

so, go and watch an Improguise festival show before it ends on Saturday, sign up to do the March TheatreSports course, and let’s all try and live life with a little more “Yes, lets,” “Yes, and” and “Playing for the whole team” in our stories…

for more information on any of the improv stuff and how to get watching or even be involved, go and visit our website

in the middle of the show, a moment of courage in the face of no small amount of fear – What if Stephanie does not understand or receive my idea?

the show is a completely made-up on the spot improvised Crime/Thriller documentary and it was show number two in Cape Town’s second ever Improv fest, happening this week at the Kalk Bay theatre [8pm, R60 per person and with delicious boerrie rolls and free drink for R60, make sure you book on 0729393351]

Stephanie was the lead character in our Crime/Thriller documentary which, as per audience suggestion, was set in Russia, sometime in the 70s and the crime in question was that someone was stabbed with a stake through the heart.

i was dutch doctor turned professor [sometime during the twenty years Stephanie had been in prison as the documentary was being filmed 20 years after said event] Dr Jaap von Vlanderen with a deliciously Russian tinged Dutch accent [20 years will do that to you] and the moment in question was one in which Stephanie, who had been completely unresponsive during my therapy was suddenly right there in the action of what had happened, describing the murder with “blood on my hands dripping down”…

i had an idea – Stephanie is under hypnosis which describes why the dramatic change in character – and i will click my fingers and release her from it…

which is where the fear comes in as i have no way to let Stephanie know this is what i am thinking… i will make an offer and either Stephanie will accept it wholeheartedly and it will be beautiful and a defining moment in the show… or she will be confused by what i am trying to do if i don’t communicate it effectively and miss it completely… or she will decide that i am offering a kak idea and just refuse it completely…

these thoughts travel at 100 miles a minute through my head but in reality i have maybe three seconds to think it all and make a choice and act on it.

what i have going strongly in my favour is that Stephanie is none other than Megan Furniss, founder of TheatreSports [Cape Town’s longest running theatre show, now going under the name of Improguise] and improviser extraordinaire and i know that the “Yes, lets” of improvisation is strong within her and so there is every safety for me in suggesting an idea and knowing she will help make it beautiful… [there is still the question of whether i will communicate it well enough for her to be on the same page as me]

[deep breath, lean forward, click my fingers] “And release.”

Megan, aka Stephanie, immediately slumps forward, instantly receiving my offer and playing it brilliantly without even a moment’s hesitation.

The audience is in on it. It worked. The story is moved forward. Adrenalin pulsating. Improvisation at its best.

Just one defining moment in an incredible evening where all the actors have worked together as one cohesive team to create a compelling story of political intrigue, international espionage and betrayal.

And it is going to be happening again tonite [Family musical] and then Saturday [Superscene which is like a crazy hectic version of Survivor:Improvise] and next week from Wed [Western] through to Saturday,

And then every Monday and Tuesday for the rest of the year. Although that will be back to our short form improvised games.

For me, having lived in Philadelphia and now Oakland in Americaland for the last two and a half years [except for a visit last year where i got to be involved in the first festival] it is such a privilege to be allowed to play with these talented people on stage again before heading back.

You do not want to be one of the people in Cape Town who misses out on this magic, so tell your friends and book and come and watch. Who knows what tonite’s adrenalin moment will be…?

2014 home ts fest

[Continued from part i]

as i said before, one thing i take really seriously in life, is humour:

‘To me, clowns aren’t funny. In fact, they’re kind of scary. I’ve wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my dad.’

[Jack Handey] 

‘I imagine a horse drawn carriage would be a really ugly thing. For starters, it must be almost impossible to grip a pencil with hooves. Plus there is all that fine detail around the edges to consider.’

[Brett Andy]

[one of my funniest guys followed by one of my attempts at making humour like on of my funniest guys, which you can find more of here]

so i didn’t actually plan to write the previous blog post – it just kinda was there and i started on it and suddenly it became this thing needing to be ended off before it became a book and since i hadn’t finished going where i was wanting to go when i started it, i figured i should carry on. it was one of the most personal blogs i have written and contained some stories and revelations that i have never really shared with anyone, especially the bullying stuff. i guess because my self-identity was pretty strong from quite a young age, due to my faith in God, that that stuff never really got to me so much, or at least not in a way that led to any destructive behaviour or anything.

one of the main points of it was that i really hoped to be quite funny in life and in certain contexts and with particular people i have been – and maybe that is enough, or should be – but i guess i always secretly harboured the hope that on stage or in a book or online or something i would be ‘discovered’ and a whole lot more people would find me funny. and also wanting to write a funnier blog [not always but sometimes, something that would really make people happy] and realising that for me that is a really difficult thing to do – i really seem to struggle to write funny [more than i struggle to be funny] and i’m not sure why that is, but stop it.

someone who i think achieves that writing-wise is a woman named Jamie Wright who calls herself The Very Worst Missionary and her blog makes me smile and laugh on quite regular occasions, but she also totally knows how to drive an uber serious point home and nail it between your eyes. [a classic of hers would be how she manages to capture so brilliantly awkwardly her mistrust and lack of skill at ‘The Hug’ – take a look at this one!]

when it comes to stand-up, which i’ve always wanted [but been too scared] to try, i have a strong feeling that once i got going i would be great because one of my skills is working a crowd – i have just never been able to come up with the starting material to lay a good foundation to be able to work a crowd from. and so i never have. and perhaps i never will. [although in my mind i still like to at least think i will and maybe the material that is naturally rushing towards me in the Americans and African Geography theme might be enough for a set one day altho i will need to disclaim that this is a true story… no, South Africa itself is a country. please stop asking me what country i am from. still South Africa. yes.]

THE FRIEND WHO DID LIGHTS AND AN IMPROV LIFELINE

i guess one of the things i am most grateful to my ex-girlfriend Kirsty for, is having a friend called Karen.

Karen used to do the lights for an improv comedy show in Cape Town called TheatreSports [altho these days they are now called Improguise and they do TheatreSports]and because we were friends with her we ended up going to see quite a lot of their shows. and because we went to see quite a lot of their shows i feel like we eventually got to see them for free or something.

but i sat there for a year and i watched these masters of comedy and improvisation and i thought to myself repeatedly, ‘i can do that’ although in my head i imagine the word ‘better’ probably ended off that particular sentence.

and so, somehow i ended up doing the TheatreSports course with one of the scariest women [when she is mad] who was [and always has been in my experience] the most gentlest person when leading people through a very scary-by-nature class where it is all about making things up on the spot [and perhaps trying to have those things make people laugh!] and who led [and leads] and incredible class and i really, honestly believe that everyone in the world should do the Introduction to TheatreSports course once in their life as it is so helpful for learning to think creatively, for helping break your inhibitions and for teaching you how to be generous in helping other people look good.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

# let me give a bit of a sidebar here, because i believe this is of the utmost importance in terms of my journey – the way TheatreSports generally works is that you do the course and then there are three options given to you:

1. Thanks for doing the course. I hope you had fun. You will make an excellent librarian.

2. Thanks for doing the course. I hope you had fun. We would love to have you as part of our team. Feel free to join us for class once a week and we would love you to do the front of house and lights for approximately 6 months before you ever have a hope of being on stage. [this is not said to people but is the general understanding – new people from a course do door and lights for about 6 months before any of them are given a shot on stage and some of them might never be]

3. Thanks for doing the course. I hope you had fun. We would like you to play in two week’s time.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

From most of the courses i have been around for, i can’t remember many more than three people [out of a group that might be 15 to 25] be asked to join us for class. i think everyone who has been invited to class has been a number 2 in terms of the descriptions above.

In fact, i have only ever seen one number 3 that i remember [and that could really just be my memory, but this is the one that stands out] and that was me. And i honestly don’t know that i would have managed to stick around for 6 months not playing if i had not been given the chance. Hopefully i would have. But i know for absolute sure, that the fact that i got on to stage to play with them almost immediately was the hugest boost for my confidence and in my opinion, improvisation is 80% confidence and 20% skills and funny or something like that.

Ashley Brownlee and Megan Choritz, now Furniss, are in my opinion the best TheatreSports players i have ever worked with [and there have been a bunch of other hugely talented people as well] and the secret with them was that they could come up with amazing ideas most of the time… but on occasion they could also have a pretty crap idea and deliver it with an amazing character or with such incredible confidence that it would be brilliant and the audience would love them. i have seen many lesser skilled players have amazing ideas and deliver them nervously and they have crashed and burned. so much of it is confidence. and i am so grateful that, for what ever reason [maybe shortage of players when i was around] i was given the chance to get on to the stage quite quickly.

and sometimes i was good. and sometimes i was really really bad.

i remember one excrutiating Rag show we did in the Baxter theatre [an annual show for the local university students where they got stand-up often filthy comedy for an hour and then we brought our family friendly show for an hour] where we were playing a warm-up game called ‘Environment’ which is a guessing game where the audience pick three words while you are out of the room and then you come in and play the scene in the environment they give you and try stumble on to the words.

Ashley Brownlee: best guy i ever played with.

Ashley Brownlee: best guy i ever played with.

 Ours was set in a Spur and i got stuck on stage as the head waiter or chef as teammate after teammate came on and guessed food suggestions for the last word we just couldn’t get and left again. Embarrassing, awkward, awful and i died a little inside. fortunately i also remember one of my highlight moments ever came at the end of that show and i forget the exact scene but we were playing Music Style Replay and Ashley and i managed to get our tongues stuck to a frozen ski lift and were singing a rousing duet that brought the house down.

i played with the TheatreSports crew for just under a year and in the beginning there is very much [even if just in your head] the feeling of you being the newcomer and this subtle gap between you and the regular players – they don’t treat you any differently and it is probably again linked to a confidence thing [as early on, most of the notes sessions we have after a show where we discuss how things went and try to learn from them, seem to be aimed at you because you are messing up the most] but i do remember the moment ‘it happened’ and suddenly i was one of the team – and having played for 11 years with them i got to see that dynamic happen with other people as well where there is this moment of ‘yup, you’re really in’ and i imagine each player probably experiences that differently.

so if my first lifeline was being thrown quickly on to stage, my second lifeline happened a year or two later. as i mentioned i was with TheatreSports for a year and then i went overseas to do the Youth With A Mission course that i did in Holland, heading to the UK and London specifically first so as to make money to pay for it. but before i left i really thought it would be a great idea to proselytise the entire team and in a very messy way that was brought about by circumstances and time constraints and fear i guess, i ended up writing a long letter comparing aspects of TheatreSports and improv games and then giving it to each of them and leaving the country.

it did not go down so well.

SO MUCH GRACE AND LOVE 

and i was away for just over a year and i knew that everyone was really pissed with me. and so i just tried to keep/build relationship by sending postcards and emails and staying in touch and letting them know that i missed them.

time managed to heal a lot of wounds. and my TheatreSports crew were incredibly gracious. i remember literally having one moment back stage with my ‘Stunt Double’ friend Sarah before going on to do a show and then it was left in the past. it was a few months after my return that i felt my moment of transition from ‘new guy’ to ‘one of the team’ and i just soared from there.

so much fun. so much funny. so many great memories and great memories of not-so-great-corporate-show memories and trips to Namibia and Sun City and all around Cape Town for a whole bunch of very different shows. i loved getting to lead TheatreSports courses with Megan and others in the team. fionaquite possibly one of the fun highlight moments of life [and a running gag between me and my teammate] was the time Fiona Du Plooy and i were doing a workshop at a boy’s school in Cape Town and playing a game where you basically set up the next kid in line with an action [with the strong instruction to never make anyone do anything you would not do yourself] and one of the boy’s when asked ‘what are you doing?’ [usually the answer is something like ‘I’m eating an ice-cream’ and then the next kid mimes eating an ice-cream] responded with ‘I’m sucking a ferret’ and despite losing Fiona almost completely to giggles at the suggestion, before we had a chance to interject and re-emphasise the instruction, the next boy in line mimed sucking a ferret as if it were a giant lollipop… needless to say we needed a time-out to get Fiona back and it has been a private joke between us for years…

the key focus of TheatreSports is teamwork and making each other look good and i think i took a little while to learn that one, whereas i was surrounded by generous folks who were always modelling it for me – but i tended to try to get the laugh for myself and often do it at the expense of the scene or the believability of the scene and that was never very cool of me and i often got ‘shouted at’ in notes. i guess it was the struggle between finally having the space and the skills to be funny and having people [a whole audience of them] think i was. but i owe so much to that tireless group of improvisers who showed me grace and forgiveness and patience on so many occasions as i learnt to do improvisation more as a team player.

altho one aspect does stand apart from all of that. my favourite game from the beginning [my watching days] was a game called Sign, where much like the recent Mandela memorial service, someone gets up and makes up a whole lot of sign language. the game is played as an interview where two people are given a topic and the third person recreates the entire interview in a made-up sign language.

in my opinion, Ashley Brownless is the king of that game. is and always will be. i used to love watching him do the sign language and because he was so good, no one else ever wanted to try it. if we played Sign, Ashley was going to do the signing.

signi imagine there must have been times when Ashley wasn’t around during our time at TS together and i probably would have tried doing it. but it was really when Ashley left that i started doing it more and more and then suddenly i became the go-to person for sign and at some point people even started referring to it as my game. that was a big moment for me. i have always said that i am not as good an actor as most of the rest of TheatreSports [who generally had some kind of dramatic training] and so when it comes to creating [and holding] characters and making scenes happen, i was always on the back foot [especially in the early days, hopefully i’ve improved]. so i used to generally excel at games that involved words or quick wit or cleverness [my absolute favourite game being one we invented as a team called Jonathan’s Lisp where we would get two consonants from the audience and if it was a ‘F’ and a ‘P” then ever ‘F’ in the scene that our characters spoke would be replaced with a ‘P’ – it was a lot of silly pun].

so the idea that i was really good at one particular game really was a great ego and confidence boost for me. and i just also loved playing that particular game so much as well.

and so being part of that amazing group of creative and clever and witty and adventurous and generous people is one of the things i really miss a lot from being away from South Africa [for close to three years now – although in Jan this year they let me play a bunch of shows when i was there and that was so much fun!]

MY NON-EXISTENT [SO FAR] INTERNATIONALIMPROV CAREER

and i did audition for two shows while i was over here:

[1] the first was a group called Comedysportz in Philly and they were really great – as with TheatreSports days of old i would sit in the audience and watch their show and think, ‘I am definitely better than at least half of these people’ and so i was super amped to play but in all honesty probably would not have had the time with our Philly work/home schedule – I went to an audition [and i really suck at auditions – my humour, as mentioned, works well playing off an audience] and thought i did decently, but they auditioned about a hundred people in three days in three minute auditions and so i really didn’t have much of a chance and didn’t make it. i was bummed, but playing improv for 11 years with an amazing bunch of people back home and knowing i could do it, meant that it didn’t ding my confidence or identity at all. their loss really. i still enjoyed watching a bunch of their shows and made friends with some of the people who played and they had some really great players as well.

[2] in the first few weeks in Oakland we found a place online and i went and auditioned there and they said they would email us back with the results within 24 hours and i never heard back from them. i auditioned with about 12 other people and easily thought i was in the top 2 so really didn’t think i wouldn’t get in. however, while i was auditioning, my wife Val was outside waiting for me and got to witness their ‘A-Team’ practising and she told me later it was a really horrible experience with people blocking each other and fighting on stage and just doing a bunch of stuff that didn’t make for good improv. so bullet dodged i guess.

but i do miss playing and am looking forward to a guest appearance at a show or two in Jan/Feb when we head home for a visit which is but weeks away. i have been playing around with the idea of perhaps running an improv course here in Oakland and seeing if we can get a little something together. but we will have to see.

so the TheatreSports crew and my years in improv definitely helped play a huge role in terms of me finding my funny and it has been so amazing to perform for and entertain literally thousands of people over the last decade and more. thank you thank you thank you to everyone who played big and small roles in that.

i feel like there is one more part to share [anyone make it down this far?] which will focus on the more recent years, my failed attempts at viral success and my discovery of a really tiny audience who really appreciate my funny way more than they should and have inspired me to keep on trying simply because i love seeing how they interact and looking at attempts at Jack Handeyesque humour, a nutcase called Brad Fish [who at least four schools in South Africa invited into their online classrooms to teach English to], my standup pulpit and the biggest [and sometimes hardest but most fulfilling when it comes] laugh to strive for – that of tbV.

to close off, one of my favourite movie lines which comes from a Bond movie and was perhaps meant in all seriousness, but which i find one of the greatest and funniest lines of all time – picture Sean Connery’s James Bond strapped to a table with a gold laser beam making its way slowly towards his privates as villain Auric Goldfinger looks on:

James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die.

[to be continued…]

corpsing megan

I did that. Gold medal right there.

and of course in 11 years of improv’ing where more often than not i have been on the opposing team to Megan, one of my favourite [naughty] things to do is when we do play a game together and i find a way to corpse [make her break character and laugh] her – because she is such a pro that it doesn’t happen often, hence the challenge, and the reward when this results:

[To continue on to part iii which looks largely at my stand-up preaching and the three jokes i invented, click here]

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