Improving on improv

The Improv Company holds regular performances where the players ad lib dialogue, characters and stories.
The Improv Company holds regular performances where the players ad lib dialogue, characters and stories. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The inaugural Singapore Improv Festival hopes to bring improvised theatre into the mainstream

Two years ago, digital marketer Liau Yun Qing attended an improv, or improvised theatre, workshop because she wanted to be funny.

When the 30-year-old told this to the instructor, he promptly replied that it was not the class for her.

"He explained how improv is a form of storytelling and not just about punchlines," she says.

This common misconception that improv is all about wisecracks and goofing around is precisely what The Improv Company hopes to dispel at the inaugural Singapore Improv Festival, which runs from tonight to Sunday.

A home-grown outfit, The Improv Company holds regular performances and workshops on improv, a form of scriptless theatre where performers ad lib dialogue, characters and stories, often with suggestions from the audience.

Since the company started in 2013, its co-founder Kim Tan, 31, says that the number of performers - mostly Singaporeans with day jobs - has risen from 10 to 30 and they now have five in-house teams.

  • BOOK IT / SINGAPORE IMPROV FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: Tonight to Sunday, various times

    ADMISSION: $25 to $30 a show. A full festival pass costs $199 (includes access to seven shows and two workshops) and a Saturday or Sunday pass costs $89 (includes access to three shows and one workshop)

    INFO: festival.improv.sg

Mr Tan says: "We want to take improv into the mainstream as many still don't really know what it is."

Held at arts space Centre 42, the three-day festival will have six performances, six improv workshops and the first national improv championship.

The showdown between four teams will be judged by Mr Tan; Mr Prem Anand, creator and executive producer of Channel 5's current-affairs sketch show The Noose; and Mr Abhishek Ravi, a regular performer with The Improv Company.

Two-thirds of the tickets, which start at $25, have been sold.

There are two main camps of improv: short- and long-form. All the performances will showcase either or both forms.

In short-form improv, performers execute short unrelated scenes in the form of high-energy games or skits. An example of this is the popular television series Whose Line Is It Anyway?.

Long-form improv, which is less common, comprises a series of scenes strung into a cohesive plot. This structure takes the form of different genres, be it an improv musical, play, or story.

Thirteen teams of up to six performers will spin tales during the festival.

One of them is Ms Liau, who is in two of the teams: Les Musicables, which specialises in improv musicals, and experimental improv troupe Modern Schemers.

Joining her on stage will be trainee lawyer Timothy Yeo, 26, who likens improv to daily life.

He says: "You don't plan exactly what you are going to do or say at each moment. And improv is similar to that; it's about reacting honestly and connecting with people without worrying about being judged."

Ms Liau and Mr Yeo are part of a slowly growing number of regular improv performers in Singapore.

Saying yes to the festival was a no-brainer for The Latecomers' founder Joanna Sio. Her team will be participating in two shows and the national championship.

The 39-year-old linguist says: "It's a platform for all the improv groups to come together. The community is small and everyone knows one another anyway."

Whose Line Is It Anyway? fan Samantha Ong, 25, was surprised when she first found out that Singapore has an improv scene.

The trainee lawyer, who has bought tickets to the championship and a show, says: "It's still a foreign topic to many. Hopefully the festival will get more people interested in it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2016, with the headline 'Improving on improv'. Print Edition | Subscribe