Last night I attended Die Nasty – “the legendary live improvised soap opera” for the first time. Despite having been to improv – mostly during Improvaganza – Die Nasty is one of those events I kept hearing about (after all, it happens every week), but never got around to seeing it.
I had a great time at Die Nasty – the show was hilarious and it was hard to believe it was all improvised – I could never be that good at thinking on my feet! However, the show got me thinking about reviewing improv – is it possible? Does anyone do it? If they don’t, how do the actors improve? Of course, there’s the immediate feedback the actor gets from the audience – did they laugh? Did they “get” it? But, I’m talking more about the kind of feedback one receives after a reviewer has gone home, thought about it, and carefully crafted a critique of the performance they just saw.
A quick Google search reveals VUE Weekly’s reviews of a couple improvised Fringe shows – reviews limited to around 100 words, and strangely enough, both expressing the sentiment that if you’ve seen improv before, those particular shows are nothing special.
So, my question: can improv be reviewed? Even just thinking about applying the same basic principles I use to review theatre leaves me shaking my head. For example – did the story hold together and make sense? Well, no – it doesn’t necessarily have to make sense in order to be effective. Did it move the audience? Improv isn’t exactly known for moving audiences – to tears (from laughing), maybe, but not in an emotional sense. It’s probably not even supposed to – isn’t the point of improv to respond in the most natural/outlandish/nonsensical way?
Sure, we could talk about the music and the lighting, but how many people go to a show specifically for the technical components? Not very many of your average Joe’s, that’s for sure.
How then, do we review improv? Critical thought about any industry helps it improve – not that I’m suggesting that Die Nasty or any other improv show needs improving – so how do I, as one of those people who reviews the arts help contribute to the growth and progression of that industry? I know that as an audience member, I’m satisfied when I leave an improv show if I didn’t spend too much time wondering what was going on, if I laughed until my cheeks hurt or tears ran down my face (surprisingly easy to do, FYI), and if the people I brought with me had a good time. But I suspect that knowing that those things were accomplished doesn’t help the improv actor’s ability to improve the experience – whether I had a good time or not.
I’ve been in contact with Die Nasty requesting an interview – I’ll update After the House Lights once I have a conversation which can give me a bit of insight into my questions. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments section below.