By Raemiguel Lee
If you'd told me a year ago that I’ll be performing at an international festival, I’d have probably laughed at the thought (while panicking about my final weeks in university). Yet lo and behold, the Singapore Improv Festival was indeed an unexpected (but all the more enlightening!) experience for me. I didn't just perform alongside a fantastic team of local players (Hi, Spam Artists!). Over the four nights at the Festival, I also had the chance to watch Improv troupes from around the world. I learned many lessons from the Festival, but there were three things in particular that I especially took to heart…
1) Looking out for your fellow player
It's so rare to find an art form wherein on-stage blunders not only enhance the show but also help bring performers closer together; unless, of course, you were at the Festival! Every time an Improviser stumbled – be it by mixing up a character's name or forgetting existing object work – teammates would swiftly integrate such mistakes into the scene as if nothing had happened. The beauty about this synergy is that it's by no means limited to the stage. Some Festival attendees might have noticed the merchandise stall set up by The 4th Players. I was moved to learn that they were raising funds for a fellow performer recently diagnosed with cancer. It's this altruistic solidarity which makes improv that much more enjoyable for performers and audiences. (And probably a significant reason why Aliwal Arts Centre drowned in laughter throughout that weekend!)
2) Trying out something (frighteningly) new
When performers are assured that someone has their back on stage, they naturally gain confidence to try things outside of their comfort zone. Indeed, everyone at the Festival was having a crack at something new – regardless if performing for the first or gazillionth time. While newcomers (like myself) were getting a feel of what playing for diverse audiences feels like, veteran performers were themselves experimenting with new formats. Even during the Jam sessions, visiting troupes readily shared with us what exercises they’d do to sharpen specific Improv skills. With Improvisers continually gaining inspiration from each other, the Festival showed me how endless the possibilities are in this dynamic art form. Perhaps it’s this unpredictable thrill of discovery that entices people to keep playing?
3) Never be afraid to be yourself
Singapore is a notably stoic city, and one often gets told that artistic self-expression in this urban jungle is impractical, if not unacceptable. This was definitely not the case at the Festival, where people from all walks of life came together to let loose from their inhibitions and just perform. Although many participants were actual working professionals by day, they seamlessly transformed into lively storytellers by nightfall (or at least once they set foot into Aliwal). This was demonstrated most clearly by the cheerful folks of Imfrog; these South Korean players were such confident and fun improvisers that their 'k-prov' earned the distinct honour of a full standing ovation!
I'm genuinely grateful for having witnessed at the Festival how everyday people can utilise improv as a personal outlet for one’s inner thoughts and imagination. For those who struggle with articulating their mind to others, I’d eagerly recommend Improv as a creative experience they might want to consider trying.
Photos: YWL Photography