BANGALORE: Over the years, there have been many different improvisational performances across the world. Commonly known as 'improv', it is a stage performance sans a script. The Second City was one of the prominent improvisational theatres, having produced many comedy stars such as Mike Myers, Amy Sedaris, Chris Farley, and John Belushi. There were many other smaller groups which rose to prominence with their shows in Boston, New York City and London. More recently, Improv made its way to television with prime-time international shows such as Saturday Night Live and Whose Line Is It Anyway?
And closer home, a theatre and filmmaking group, Centrestage, has set the scene for this style of entertainment with their stage show Improv. With one host, six actors, two producers and a room full of audience, Improv was formed in 2012 by filmmaker Saad Khan and theatre actor Siddhanth. "Engineering students rarely know how to act. But Siddhanth and I loved theatre. So during our college days, he and I would sit in the canteen and enact waiter-customer roles. In just a few minutes, a huge crowd would gather around us to watch us. This was what gave us a push to start an improv group, where we wouldn't need a script to perform. But the idea was still in its infancy. When I came back from the US after my filmmaking training, we started this group,” recalls Saad.
The first rule of improv theatre is 'always say yes.' But Saad says, negating is much more fun. “At no point do we want to take away the fun element from our act. If you always say ‘yes’ to a situation, the act becomes predictable and boring. So we like to mix things up a little to keep the suspense element going.” Saad, who is the director of the show, also doubles up as the host. Before every show, he takes the stage and after a short banter with the audience, he fields situations from the audience. He explains, “Each of our acts runs for one-and-a-half hours and we have around 6-7 rounds in this segment. The audience gives a situation for each of these rounds, and the actors enact them on stage.”
A situation can be as simple as this: Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi go on a road trip or two people attending a funeral or Indian cricketer Sreeshanth who was accused of match fixing is in conversation with a British investigator. He adds, “Some of the topics we get are based on real-life situations and some are downright hilarious. But whatever be the case, we try to work on the humour element.”
As improv depends on the audience, it is all about using your wit, being on your toes and most importantly, knowing what your co-actor might 'not' do. Hence, the team, which comprises of Saad, Siddhanth, stand-up comedian Kenneth Sebastian, actors Sumukhi Suresh, and Richa Kapoor and others, meets up for at least two rehearsals before every show just to build on the camaraderie among them. He also points out that improv demands transformation of characters within seconds which can be challenging.
On the way to becoming a brand of comedy, Improv has completed over 60 shows in the country. The team is all set to perform on June 14 at the Alliance Francaise Bangalore.