Improv, improvisation, impro if you’re Australian, what is it?!
Improvisational theatre brings ordinary people into the theatre to enjoy stories about themselves. For the players, improvisation provides a platform to explore performance and the narrative form and to develop important life skills (creativity, spontaneity, teamwork, listening, perception, trust, generosity and openness). Most of all, it’s fun for everyone involved. Popularised by Nobel Prize Winner Dario Fo, Keith Johnstone’s TheatreSports and television shows like Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, improvisational theatre continues to evolve with many different streams and philosophies.
Some NZ History
Improv in New Zealand theatre became popular in the early nineties as part of the global phenomenon of Keith Johnstone’s Theatresports. Theatresports techniques liberated many traditional theatre practitioners, and Theatresports itself was performed on a regular basis at most of the country’s major centres and taught in schools. Auckland Theatresports, Christchurch’s Court Jesters, Wellington’s The Improvisers and the Dunedin Improv Company were all formed in this first wave of enthusiasm for improv theatre in New Zealand. Improv nearly became a victim of its own success, with some leaving the tradition as performance became competitive, and losing credibility within the theatre community. In 1997, Auckland’s Improv Bandits sought to reinvent local improv, pitching themselves as a subversive new force performing improv ‘without safety nets’. Clawing back audience, Improv Bandit Wade Jackson then opened New Zealand’s only dedicated improv theatre – The Covert Theatre in Auckland.
WIT was formed in 2004, from the group which appeared in an award winning Micetro during the 2003 Wellington Fringe Festival. In 2008 WIT convened the first New Zealand Improv Festival, bringing together troupes from around New Zealand and beyond.
New Zealand’s newest improv company is Off the Cuff in Nelson, whose first public show was in 2016. Other smaller groups come together for projects or shows, improvisors love to play with other improvisors.
Improv Groups in NZ
There are improv troupes in most of the main centres in New Zealand: WIT, The Improvisers and PlayShop in Wellington; Improsaurus in Dunedin, ConArtists, the Covert Theatre (home of The Improv Bandits) and Auckland Playback Theatre in Auckland, and the country’s longest running troupe – The Court Jesters – in Christchurch. There are more groups in these and other centres too, the Improvisation Australia New Zealand Facebook group is a good place to ask if there’s something in the town you’re in.