2012 Melbourne Fringe:
• The Improv Conspiracy
• 1 Man Debate
Posted on 01 October 2012
The Improv Conspiracy
The Improv Conspiracy is introducing Melbourne to “The Harold”.
In the world of improvisation people are familiar with short form improv, where performers play out one game after another based on audience suggestions. Whose Line Is It Anyway specialised in this. Long form improv springs from audience suggestions as well, but through a series of scenes, creates a storyline that lasts around thirty minutes or more. Thank God You’re Here played on the edges of long form.
The Harold is a form of long improvisation that incorporates short games. The games keep the event buoyant, the story makes possible rising action and sustained interest.
Adam Kangas, Artistic Director for The Improv Conspiracy, cut his teeth on The Harold in Los Angeles as an alumnus of the Upright Citizens Brigade. After moving to Melbourne he has performed in both The Baby Seals and The Big Hoo-Haa! This Fringe Festival is his opportunity to get people excited with The Harold.
Two teams are “competing” in this event: The NASA Dropouts and The Peeping Toms. Each are given words from the audience with which to build a three act story. Last night the words were “telephone box” and “French fries”. The first team created a story about Russian angst, the other about love, evil, and the food industry. Of course on another night those stories could be about anything from Jillaroos having to fight off dinosaurs to a medical team having to save the life of Santa’s only child.
Kangas has done an excellent job of training up his improv troops. Some members of each team had only been doing improv since June of this year, but you would never know it. Mind you, they were supported by old hands like Scott McAteer, a superbly skilled mime who has performed with The Baby Seals and The Big Hoo-Haa!; Chaz Chilcote, who trained with Second City in Los Angeles; and Emmet Nichols, yet another Big Hoo-Haa! alumnus.
Of the relative new-comers I would say people should keep an eye on Izaak Lim, a cabaret artist testing the improv waters. He has an engaging presence that should carry him far. I was also impressed by writer/broadcaster Rose Callaghan. She had a lovely way of savouring her roles.
The Improv Conspiracy and The Harold provide an evening of both well-grounded and lighter-than-air performance that is exciting to watch.
1 Man Debate
Simon Taylor is both a highly skilled and highly talented entertainer. His show Ten Things I Know About You that premiered at last year’s Melbourne Fringe was a tour de force. This year he has taken on one of comedy’s most contentious issues, males vs females. He does this in the form of a debate where his “masculine” self argues with his “feminine” self, “Is manhood still relevant?”
I have to admit throughout this show I was alternately holding my breath or hyper-ventilating as Taylor tread treacherous ground. I have seen crowds get ugly with this sort of material, or simply switch off. One extreme case I recall is when a comedian started telling sexist jokes and a row of drunk nurses heckled him in no uncertain terms. Rather than moving on the comedian decided to pick a fight.
Taylor does play with the stereotypes. Plenty of room for humour in that space: sending up distorted gender expectations. He tells a number of delightful anecdotes about his own failed attempts at romance. He then weaves in a few good points about what is and isn’t helpful in the way people, men and women, interact with one another.
Taylor’s biggest success is in just keeping the tone light while carefully and evenly engaging the whole time with people of each gender. The women stayed on side. Some men I felt enjoyed themselves, but were a little bemused. If they were bemused because they found themselves challenging their own thinking, then great. They may have gone away thinking Taylor was fun but weird. As I said, this material is tricky.
I would like to have seen Taylor take the whole sensitive new age guy thing a step further than, “I cry and get hurt”. When anyone who is not a white Western male asks for sensitivity, they are asking for their feelings and circumstances to be validated, respected, and addressed. If a woman giving birth is screaming out in pain and a partner who has never given birth says, “I understand your pain, I’ve just stubbed my toe” and expects the same level of consideration, they are not in fact being that sensitive at all. Would anyone be ready for such a message in a comedy? I don’t know.
I am deeply pleased that Taylor chose to tackle gender issues in 1 Man Debate. He was able to do this in a manner that furthers discussion rather than reinforcing walls, and that’s important. This sort of show needs to be done more times by more people until we are able to gain greater understanding in a safe environment. Thank you Simon Taylor.
Peace and kindness,