Wu Hsiao-hsien (吳效賢), founder of Guts Improv Theater (勇氣即興劇場), says improvisational actors have a saying that one in five performances flop.
But this is where the genre’s excitement lies.
Improvisers have to act, sing or play musical instruments impromptu, which can lead to surprising, hilarious and downright bizarre dialogues and scenes — but also awkward silences and jokes that miss the mark.
“The audience will be adventuring with the improvisers,” says Wu. “They will feel fearful if performers find themselves on the verge of a blunder.”
Established four years ago as Taiwan’s first Mandarin improvisational theater group, Guts Improv Theater presents three forms of unscripted drama for audiences at Taipei’s Comedy Club this weekend.
In Improv Games actors solicit suggestions from the audience for a story to use in five- to 10-minute dramas. In Unscripted Love Story actors stage an hour-long romantic narrative, double the length of the group’s previous long-form dramas, with members of the audience contributing story suggestions. And in Improv Jam those in the audience who are bold enough have the chance to try their luck on stage.
Though actors will be on hand to offer guidance during Improv Jam, short-form improv is no easy task.
“Having to give a sense of the segment’s ending in a 10-minute skit is challenging,” says Wu. “With a longer drama, you have more time to establish your characters and their relationships.”
For Unscripted Love Story musician Jane Lin (林伊真) will compose songs extemporaneously while performers Strawberry Kao (高琇慧), Chang I-hui (張亦暉), Renee Wang (王思為) and Lamen Wang (王志龍) join in with lyrics on the fly.
To make this kind of cooperation possible, improvisers have to spend a great deal of time rehearsing together as a team.
Wu likens improv theater to playing tennis. “You have no idea whatsoever of the playing style your opponent will have, but you still have to work on your returns, serves and other basic skills. It’s the same with improv. We don’t know what our story line will be beforehand, yet we can practice our techniques in improvisation and storytelling.”