Around the World in 80 ways!
2022 spring tour
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 WAYS
Spring 2022 Dubai, Egypt, Germany, Holland, Italy
If you travel a lot, the world becomes one large diverse community. The airports are bus stops and the countries are neighbourhoods with distinct personalities. The people in those neighbourhoods are unique on the surface but at the core are very much the same.
This ‘community’ of ours has amazing images, animals and landmarks. Kangaroo hopping beside the car in Australia, the epic view of Machu Pichu in Peru, the nearly kilometre tall Burj Khalifa, towering giraffes racing past in Botswana. On and on and on. We live in amazing diversity.
Here’s an improvised perspective of the recent tour that introduced me to Improvisers in Egypt, returned me to friends in Dubai and had me improvising around Germany, Netherlands, Slovenia and Italy.
Dubai is the home of the Courtyard Playhouse. In a country where Improvisation is technically illegal, the playhouse has managed amazing growth in the past 5 years.
The Playhouse has grown from a little gem of a theatre and tiny office into a crown of two theatres, a dedicated studio space, more than a dozen paid employeses and two offices on two floors with a maze of rooms and hallways filled with pictures, props and artifacts of interest.
Dubai was a reunion.What a pleasure to see the faces of long ago friends and wonderful to meet the many new people.
The reality of Dubai has changed very little. Improvisation is still technically illegal. Like Keith Johnstone’s work in the 60’s, the Playhouse has creatively worked in a way that satisfies the reality and allows them to move forward.
The large audiences at most of their shows don’t know the difference. The laughs and applause are as loud there as anywhere you would see Maestro, Musical Impro or any other format.
When I was there, Justin, a guest from Los Angeles dropped by and joined in a Maestro performance. He won the show. This means little to some but it’s a sign that he was supported by the cast members in a way that put the competition of the show in the perspective it should be. It’s a competition against boredom, not against each other. And it was a good show with some memorable scenes.
I worked with the ensemble group as well as the full company. Watching people like James and Marie who have grown from “kids with potential” into young adults with fantastic talent was wonderful to watch.
One of the hi-lights of the visit was seeing the new, young improvisers stepping into the art of improvisation with skill and enthusiasm. Many groups around the world are dismissive of young new improvisers but they are missing out on the potential for their companies to benefit from fresh perspective. A special young lady stood out as an exceptional performer and person.
Roya, at only 14 is a stronger performer now than most people will ever hope to be in many years of training. Her confidence and humility might come from her two amazing parents who are more than encouraging. They are enlightening as people in their own right. Positive, enthusiastic and wonderful to be around. That might be the secret to a strong start for an improvisation career.
And my friend Salman. Salman is one of the warmest, good-natured spirits of a person you are likely to meet. He’s embarking on a new journey of touring and teaching with a bit of BOLLYWOOD Impro with the wild-haired Sri Lankan, Rushdi! Contact me or the Courtyard to get in touch with him about that.
I’m not a tourist when I travel but I guess I should mention the visit to EXPO. The global collection of nations showing off their uniqueness in one area was overwhelming as much as it was “epic”. of 150 or so countries… I saw 5 or 6. The best part of it however was a wall of water play area where I hung out with my adopted family. (The playful places were much more engaging than the sales pitches countries were making for their economies and tourism. PEOPLE AND PLAY COME FIRST)
Alana, Sophia and Alana’s mom from Australia were the best part of the visit to Expo. Great people and too short of a visit! Alana is usually in prison so I was lucky to have some time with her.
Oh… did I mention Alana works in a prison with some of the toughest, tattooed inmates you can imagine? She’s doing her part to rehabilitate the gang….sters. And, by all accounts, she’s having remarkable success. Her Improvisation program is the only extra activity that the inmates have ever asked to bring back. They also promised to visit her when they are out.
Let’s Leap over to…
Wow. Where to start???
I talk a lot about the only TWO things you need to know in Improvisation! SPIRIT – and – TECHNIQUE.
If you get those two things grooving you will be a great improviser. The Improvisers in Cairo with a group called IRTIGALIA have the SPIRIT at 100%
Such lovely spirited, connected people.
The group is led by Ramsi Lehner.
Here’s the think about Ramsi. He’s created an Improvisation community of students, performers and audience that could carry itself forward for a long time to come just on the good nature everyone has. BUT, Ramsi also has great humility and knows that he wants more of the technical skills for his company.
I often go into groups where the leader or coaches wants so desperately to PROVE themselves that they’ve lost the perspective on their company and on improvisation itself. It’s such a prevalent problem that I assume it happens everywhere to one degree or another.
In Irtigalia, it feels like Ramsi and his top teachers understand there’s a ceiling in some of their understanding about theory or practical skills. Their openness is refreshing and immediately beneficial. They see where they can improve and they move in a good direction.
I was there for just under two weeks and was impressed by the steps that so many of them were taking in development.
It would be impossible to mention everyone in all the workshops, from the movement and emotion class to Narrative workshops and the Playfulness sessions, but I want to give them all a big hug for the time we spent and the work we explored.
They took great care of me. There were many nights in Egypt (and Dubai) where nights went long and sleep went short.
Of course, I have to mention the Pyramids and culture of Egypt.
Ramsi’s father is one of the authorities on the Sphinx, the Pyramids, and all things Ancient Egypt. If you are interested in this area of culture, you will know the name Mark Lehner.
Mark took us with others cannot go. He showed us what others can’t see even when they look at it. We saw a location where tourists don’t get to see where the three main pyramids align. I learned that the black marks in the eyes of the sphinx are pigeons nesting. And they are there because of us. (More- they are there because of the Camels and Horse droppings leaving seeds and grains for them to feed on.) When the Pandemic was in full force and everyone was at home. The Pyramids and Sphinx had a pigeon reprieve because there was no food drawing the pigeons to the area.
When in Egypt, try the Koashari!!! It’s the craziest mix of starch on top of starch… two or three types of pasta, rice, lentils and chickpeas. AND – it’s great. Also, the french fry sandwich was pretty awesome… and yes, I need to go on a diet.
Travel to these global communities is complicated of course by the pandemic reality. It’s a dice throw whether today will be the day covid will hit and stop all movement forward or if I forgot a test or filled out a ‘locator form’ wrong. Anything could cut things short.
SPEAKING OF CUTTING THINGS SHORT!!!! – German efficiency is well known. What is less understood by travellers from abroad is the unreliable train system. You wouldn’t think that German trains would be problematic, would you? No! Neither would I.
None of my German transportation went as planned. On my return trip from Holland to Germany, I was forced to spend a night at a hotel in Dusseldorf because of train issues. Ahhhhh Dusseldorf. Your dreamy Dussel is only exceeded by the delight of your delectable DORF.
And just the other day when I had to head to Slovenia, my trip was derailed before I even stepped onto the Train. When one connection breaks on that tight German schedule, everything falls apart.
Eventually, things work themselves out.
I love small classes. In Nijmegen, we had two days working on the OVERLAP format which focuses on connections with partners and the audience.
Holland has a ‘STRONG’ reputation. That is to say, a reputation to be “STRONG”. Most improvisers I meet here could benefit from work on vulnerability and removing those old trained shackles.
Put the “Dutch Strength” on top of the profession of teaching and you have a dominant force. I was surprised to see that almost everyone in the class was a teacher. Teachers can be the most difficult students but luckily these 6 were lovely and there were only a few tears. (really)
When new ideas run up against ingrained kNOwledge, the brain and ego run headfirst into brick walls. Most Impro teachers don’t teach real flexibility. They teach their version of IMPRO RULES. That’s a frustrating problem when they want to actually expand their own way of thinking.
With teachers, you usually don’t have to teach more information. You have to teach them how to let go of old information that gets in their way of being better improvisers.
In this class where there was an abundance of technique, the spirit of the improvisers was guided too rigidly by their rules. By the end of our time together, the uncontrollable laughter suggested that flexibility was returning to their process.
Every once and a while you meet a student that puts the improvisation into perspective.
Peter was a good-natured Dutch doctor who told us his stories about improvisation in the hospital.
It put all of the so-called importance of ‘good improvisation’ into perspective. While we were doing word-at-a-time exercises, he was on the phone giving life-saving information to a hospital for a patient.
When you are taking yourself too seriously on stage or in the classroom remember to keep it all in perspective.
It’s always great to visit Vid, Neza and the family and IGLU Improvisers. Thanks, Vid for the meals (great cook), the walks, and the entertainment that you and Neza gave me. Hugs to the kids.
Ljublijana has no Pyramids or mega tall towers but they have epic human connection. People are important and human relationship is the key to great improvisation and life in general.
As always we worked with the improvisers on the basic issues that creep in everywhere. SEE YOUR PARTNER – TRY TO BE NORMAL – DO THE OBVIOUS. As with Egypt, the people here are warm. They have a great spirit that many groups miss.
Our show for the students had its bumps but they have a healthy process. I remember mentioning that they have to keep somewhere in mind what it is they aspire to in their group. Quick jokes will lead to a specific type of audience. Strong narrative and connection with each other lead to another type of audience. You get the audience you deserve so make sure you attend to developing them with the type of work that you aspire to.
This seems to be the last smoker’s paradise on the planet. Our show environment reminded me of old smoky pubs in the early 80’s. Be prepared to smell like a burning cigarette for the next few days.
The last class in Slovenia was supposed to be a diagnostic class where students bring their issues and we develop a class based on their needs. Only one student brought a direct question.
What was fascinating for me was how that one question acted like the catalyst for a waterfall that rushed forward, moving the entire class from exercise to exercise.
It was one of my favourite classes on the tour. Every scene in the last hour was wonderful to watch.
It wasn’t the class that was planned. It was the class that needed to be. And it came from doing the obvious thing as the class progressed.
There’s another article in the blog about this fluid way of developing teaching and classes. It’s called TEACH LIKE A RIVER.
Two more stops on this adventure. Rome and Florence.
Looking forward to the cuisine and friends and the emotional explosion of expressions and hands flying through the air!
Improvisation is alive and well as we break out of the pandemic.
If you are travelling, reach out to the improvisers in the neighbourhood you are travelling to. You are likely to find a future life-long friend and possibly an invitation on their stage.