Improv: More than Just Comedy

Improv Fest Ireland 2016 was described as “a great success” by festival director, Neil Curran. The fat various Dublin city centre venues including the Teachers’ Club Theatre and the Workman’s Club.

Mr Curran, a veteran of improv theatre, said the festival was: “definitely the biggest year yet. We had a huge turnout with full houses for all the shows.”

The Lower The Tone creator said that Improv Fest Ireland has generally drawn a really diverse audience with people coming from all over the world. The morning after the most recent festival concluded, Mr Curran had people contacting him from several countries informing him that “they had heard about the festival and really want to come next year.”

Mr Curran has his own show, which he has been performing for a number of years called “Neil +1”. The performance involves Mr Curran and an audience member, picked at random.

“It shouldn’t matter the amount of experience the person on the stage has as there is no wrong way to do improv,” said Mr Curran. Mr Curran ensures the audience member has no prior experience of improv as he wants the show to have a “natural feel.”

Mr Curran acknowledged that improv can be a frightening prospect for some people but he wants to “make them realise that I’m not out to get them and I’ve got their back.”

At the 2015 festival Mr Curran debuted “Neil +1, You’re Dead”. The show imagines a conversation between the grim reaper and an audience member who has been invited to the afterlife to carry out a post-mortem of his life so far. Mr Curran wanted to examine the darker side of life with this performance.

“That was the show’s debut and as you can imagine it was pretty terrifying for me,” said Mr Curran. But, this fear of the unknown seems to be a large part of the appeal of improv. “The joy of improv is that the theatre is created in the moment”, he said.

The British sketch show “Whose Line Is It Anyway” was probably the first experience of improv for many people, including Mr Curran but it still seems to be a difficult concept to grasp for some people. Mr Curran said that “a lot of friends still think I’m a comedian. But, comparing improv to comedy is like comparing rugby and football.”

Support and Trust

The audience and performers tend to form a connection as “improv is built around the idea of support and trust” said Mr Curran. He further stressed that “improv as an art form is all about the community.”

Improv Fest Ireland is definitely gaining traction, though, as Mr Curran noted, “when you compare it to other theatre festivals, it’s smaller, but it is definitely growing.”

There is no dedicated improv theatre in Ireland and, for this reason, Mr Curran believes it is a good idea to take improv classes “with as many different people as you can.”

Mr Curran also works in a managerial role in a technology company and he notices the value of improv as a learning tool for businesses. “Many corporate bodies are using improv classes as they look for more innovative ways to train”, said Mr Curran.

On the work he does with companies such as Facebook and Google Mr Curran said: “I bridge the gap for organisations between improv as an art form and as a skill which we use in business.”

Mr Curran feels that people need to attend a show to really understand this form of theatre: “Improv does not televise well and belongs on a stage in a theatre. Comedy comes from improv but I feel that what we [improv performers] do on stage is more open and honest.”

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