Ten things I’ve learned from guerrilla improvised theatre

Note: I’ve done various types of planned and unplanned improvised things both in Toronto and in Vancouver. Generally, I would consider guerrilla improv to be something done that is not in a traditional theatre or performance space, and that takes people by surprise. Like a flash mob…sort of.

  1. Having a loud argument with a fellow improviser as a joke in a small and crowded party at your university wherein a drink gets spilled and you get slapped in the face might sound like a funny idea, but the people around you do not think it’s funny. At all.
  2. Ryan Phillippe filmed a film (Anti-Trust) at UBC many years ago. The UBC Improv team staged a protest, with the thesis that Ryan Phillippe and other teen idols were actually mer-men, being held captive by Hollywood to make movies. When mer-men are out of the sea for long periods of time, they begin to shrink until they whither away (we used Corey Haim and Corey Feldman as examples of mer-men who had disappeared. This was before reality television). This is why so many movie stars look shorter in real life than they are in the movies; they actually are shorter. We protested outside the library. We made flyers, we made signs, we had chants, we made speeches. There was a video made, of trying to meet Ryan, narrated documentary-style. I and another improviser did meet him, outside his trailer signing autographs. We showed him a flyer, which he signed, and we gave him another one to have. I wonder if he still has it?
  3. Go to New York, and watch the people making speeches and singing songs on the trains. Try going on a train and singing “Georgia On My Mind” really loudly. Or yelling a speech at everyone on the train. Much scarier than stopping for a few minutes at Union station, no?
  4. For some people, inappropriate public performance is a way of life.
  5. Performing for people who hate you, or who ignore you, is a great way to cut your teeth and work out material. You learn really fast what people find funny. You learn to deal with a hostile crowd. Most importantly, you learn how to not give a fuck. That makes you a better and more fearless performer on stage. Every stand-up comedian should do a set, randomly, in public, and keep trying out jokes to see the reaction. Do crowd work. Do it for an hour.
  6. I performed a set of improvised musical scenes recently in Kensington Market on the street with Smash Hit. We got heckled by street toughs (or so I assumed, by their leather jackets). We turned that into a heckling scene, where we were heckling at imaginary comics. Then we started heckling each other. Then the street toughs heckled the scene. It was so funny.
  7. I love street drama. I love seeing scenes of love or anger played out on the street. It’s so raw.
  8. Flash mobs are cool, I guess, but I think they need to mean something. Maybe they create art in a space where there was no art before. Maybe they are transgressive…they challenge social boundaries or they are politically relevant. The point, I believe, is to disrupt space; it confronts routine and transforms space we take for granted. If you are choreographing a public space, ask yourself why, and what it means.
  9. In a city like Toronto, anything you do can disrupt social space, because we rarely interact with strangers here. In New York or LA, you have to work a lot harder to do something different publicly, because they are cities filled with public performers.
  10. I really think there is a difference between Just For Laughs gags or Punk’d, where you prank people for laughs and then let them in on the joke in the big reveal, and guerrilla theatre or improv.


Filed under tenthingsivelearned, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Ten things I’ve learned from guerrilla improvised theatre

  1. I don’t envy anyone trying to get a reaction in Toronto (where I grew up.)
    Cold town!

    I now live in NY where you see so many weird things all the time you barely notice them. But people will respond with enthusiasm if they like it.

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