By Kevin Hanssen
“To be or not to be”
“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”
“May the force be with you.”
Lines that linger in our memories, part of our consciousness.
Stories. Alice went down a rabbit hole. Lucy entered the wardrobe. Frodo left the Shire. And we’re really happy they did. Because we went with them, on a journey into the imagination; a very powerful and intoxicating place to be. But are stories just for fun? Are they an escape from the stresses and strains of potholes, power cuts and the insistent yapping of rogue chihuahuas?
Kenneth Burke said: “Stories are equipment for living”. Is this true? Could it be that stories also serve as a mirror, a finely tuned, excitable vehicle for our curious minds, a precedent for our own meandering life choices to reference? There are many ways of creating stories, one of them is through improvisation. ‘Improv’ is probably best known from the TV series Whose Line Is It Anyway? A TV show that celebrates the quick-witted, playful minds of its stars Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady and Ryan Stiles. But the powers of improv go beyond entertainment and have many applications. Improv is a popular writing tool for theatre and film companies. It is also used in corporate training to develop listening skills, empathy and all-round team building. In the medical environment, it has helped doctors and nurses improve their connection with patients and each other.
The heart of improv lies in a game called “Yes, and…”. Very simply “Yes, and…” works like this:
- You say something
- I agree with you and add something
- You agree with what I’ve just said and another thing
- I agree with you and add something more.
- And so on…
Sound familiar? Something like a functional, yet playful, conversation.
Once there was a boy
Yes, and he lived in a forest
Yes, and this forest was full of frogs
Yes, and the frogs were campaigning for a new leader
Yes, and the leader they dreamed of could leap over a Red London Bus
Yes, and they ordered a Red London Bus from Amazon
Yes, and the Red London Bus arrived just in time for the Leadership Weekend Away…
And so our imagination is off, down the rabbit hole, into the wardrobe, away from the Shire. Wonderful! N’est-ce pas? Of course, it’s wonderful. And as our imaginations spring to life, and our innate desire for story, for drama, for romance, for life kicks in we spread our wings and we grow. We learn. We explore the minds and passions of others. We realise that the world doesn’t just revolve around ‘me’. There are many people out there with ideas. Perhaps ideas that are quite different to our own. Ideas that might be, dare we admit, better than our own. Hmm. Stories, improv … it’s a dangerous game. It can lead us face to face with our pride, our selfish ways, our need to always be right. And yet, therein lies the power of stories, of drama, of movies, and of improv. Not only is it fun, but, if we really give it a go, it could just help us to become better people.
Harare has its very own Improv company that produces a regular show called The Impro Show, similar in a way to Whose Line Is It Anyway. This was started more than 10 years ago by Kevin Hanssen, and over the years The Impro Show has had many members. Long-time favourites include Musa Saruro, Jamie McLaren, Chipo Chikara and Erin Sticklen. More recent recruits include Harare’s (and London’s) answer to Spiderman Matt Roper, the ever-popular and effervescent Munya Guramatunhu and powerhouse of local theatre Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi. The Impro Show has also participated as a member of the International TheatreSports Institute based in Calgary, Canada. TheatreSports is a fun competitive use of improv that students quickly respond to with huge helpings of love and enthusiasm. Canada takes TheatreSports so seriously that they have teams all over the country and a national league.
Outside of doing Impro Shows at Reps Theatre and popular restaurants, the group also run open workshops from time to time for adults and teenagers, and have recently started their own foray into corporate training, passing on the power of improv to those in business and industry. A number of the group also work in education, teaching improv and drama to school students. A big part of this contribution includes Allied Arts, an incredible organisation helping students of all ages to create poems, dramas, and stories of all kinds for over 100 years.
Over the past 10 years or so the actors from The Impro Show have found that they work well together and often band together on other projects, such as Under the Affluence productions headed by Jamie McLaren, or the pilot episodes for a TV sitcom written by Musa Saruro, called Dinner Only. If you would like to watch some of their material online you can find two pilot episodes of Dinner Only on YouTube at Kevin Hanssen’s YouTube channel, as well as scenes from The Impro Show on Vimeo (or via The Impro Show’s Facebook page).
As Kenneth Burke says: stories are equipment for living. It would be a dull, grey world without yarns, tales and dad jokes. There would be no one to throw rotten fruit at.
If you would like to find out more about Improv contact The Impro Show via their Facebook page, or drop Kevin Hanssen an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, +263772302913 (Zim and WhatsApp), www.kevinhanssen.com
Originally published in the 121st Ndeipi Magazine