Shaolin Punk presents Dungeon Crawl

Posted on 08 February 2012

I enjoy participating in improvisational theatre and improvisational speaking. I have to admit that memorising lines and performing the same material every night can get tedious. Having to come up with something on the spot is the artistic equivalent of bungee-jumping: scary but what an adrenaline rush high.

Of course watching impro is another matter. TheatreSports takes a proscriptive approach to the art to ensure a theatrical experience with a complete story. Short form TheatreSports impro allows a lot of room for play and humour. It’s more like a sketch show where the audience gets to interact. Hence its popularity. You just have to not mind the formulaic nature of the form.

Long form TheatreSports is a mixed bag. For one thing you are taught NOT to go for the laughs. Sometimes this generates good theatre with a touch of humour. Sometimes stories become dry and meandering.

TheatreSports is valuable for teaching people the discipline of interacting as an ensemble. It teaches the building blocks of story and creates a safe environment for overcoming creative inhibitions. It also provides a forum for practise, practise, PRACTISE.

I have seen comedy troupes who have attempted improvisation without a grounding in something like TheatreSports. Sometimes between raw talent and much practise, you get the jazz of TheatreSports mixed with wild creativity. This can be a joy to watch. Other times you get a group of people floundering around in an imaginary world without direction and trying too hard to be funny.

Shaolin Punk’s Dungeon Crawl is not based in TheatreSports, but like that system, a framework is provided within which the comedians/actors can more easily find themselves and propel the story. In this case as the name suggests, the framework is that provided by Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) adventures.

Ben McKenzie the founder of Shaolin Punk begins the evening by establishing himself as the Dungeon-Master (DM): the person who sets the scenarios, introduces conflict, and adjudicates the success of player and non-player character actions with the throw of a dice. Three guest comedians are asked to take on fantasy characters with a special power. The night I went we had Geraldine Quinn playing a Valkyrie, Sean Fabri playing a well-fed cleric, and Nadia Collins playing a gnome named Gnome Chomsky. The audience is then asked for a questing item. I donated my umbrella with the duck-head to the cause.

Our party of heroes, upon arriving at Elfholm, are told they can only enter if they return the somewhat evil ducky umbrella of doom to the mountain of Target. Their trip is one fraught with peril after peril thwarting their attempts at completing the quest. Richard McKenzie did a delightful job of providing all the non-player characters against which the others would riff in their creation of story and comedy.

Much of the night was a direct parody of Lord of the Rings. This is to be expected when random comedians are thrown into the deep-end of improvisation. Dungeons & Dragons is about re-enacting not just the fantasy genre, but Lord of the Rings in particular. Ben evidently mixes things up by having a theme to each night’s performance. He promised me that for the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, they would be having a big D&D and Dr Who mashup.

The evening’s formula worked well, providing both story and laughs. Geraldine Quinn did a top-flight job of leading the characters ever onward into the plot. Sean Fabri did an amazing job of throwing out the witty one-liners and clever references to other stories. Nadia Collins added nicely timed original twists, keeping the quest lively. Ben showed off his skills as an adept DM, knowing when to add complications, when to engage the audience, and when to end a scene (no mean feat).

Dungeon Crawl began its life as a 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Show. Now it is a monthly fixture at Bella Union in Trades Hall. Shaolin Punk has definitely carved out a niche for themselves. They had an audience of regulars, many of whom were scifi and fantasy fans who came along for a beer and a bit of live fun. The event reminded me of pub trivia nights, only more entertaining. Having been a Dungeons & Dragons nerd in my teens and twenties, I’m pleased to see it works so well for improvisational theatre performances.

Shaolin Punk presents Dungeon Crawl
The Bella Union, upstairs at Trades Hall, corner of Lygon and Victoria streets, Melbourne
8:30pm, first Wednesday of the month
Tickets: $14 pre-sale (inc. booking fee), $15 at the door

Peace and kindness,


1 Response to Shaolin Punk presents Dungeon Crawl

  • […] a corker of a show, but don’t just take my word for it: check out the photos below, and read this review from audience member and performer Katherine Phelps – who provided us with a perfect […]

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