Improvisation, or 'improv', as it is known in today's fast paced world, is an ancient form of performance art, tracing its roots in the Western world back to 391 B.C. It is the art of performance without a planned script - closer home, in Karnataka, the purer forms of Yakshagana performances also used a form of improv, with the performers rattling off stories, interpretations, history and even literary criticism on stage, with no script to guide them. Comic theatre, which originated in Italy as commeda dell'arte, was popular from the 16th century and performers relied heavily on improvisation. The rule of thumb? Always go with it. Always say ‘yes’.
In modern theatre, however, it claims a genre of its own, largely among standup comics. While improv comedy and theatre have quite the following in Mumbai, Bengaluru still has a fledgling scene, as Nasir Engineer, the founder of Improv Comedy Bangalore, found when he moved here. ICB is now four years old and does regular shows, workshops and corporate training programmes across India.
Nasir's first tryst with improv came almost a decade ago, in Mumbai. When he moved to Bengaluru for work, he realised he had found himself a niche. "The improv scene here had so much potential to be developed and I wanted to spread the joy," he says. "After a few attempts at rounding up a group, I found the first set of amazing people with whom we launched ICB in Juen 2015. Today, after a lot of ups and downs, we're managing ot keep steady. Growth happens a little bit at a time but we're grateful for the grassroots climb," he says.
Their latest show in Bengaluru will have Rebecca and Rich Sohn, accomplished improvisers from the 'Improv Mecca' that is Chicago, join the ICB crew on stage. "We are open to collaborations," says Nasir. "If we like the work someone is doing, we approach them with an idea to collaborate."
Improv hit the limelight with hit shows like 'Whose line is it anyway', but as Nasir will tell you, that's just hte tip of the iceberg. Improv has found its place in storytelling-based shows, improvised musicals, plays, epics, soap operas, Bollywood films and even in James bond. Each with their own distinct flavour. Improv in India has grown to a point where groups are popping up now in cities like Hyderabad, Chennai and Surat.
"We at ICB wanted to bring the community together to facilitate co-creation and learning. We also needed outside resources and influences, to teach us things beyond what we could find here. These were the ideas behind the first Bengaluru Improv Festival," says Nasir. The festival was such a hit that the team found themselves overwhelmed with queries asking about the second edition. "We were quite humble dby the response and the second Bengaluru Improv Festival will happen in November this year," he adds.
Improv Comedy Bengaluru has big plans for the future, including the setting up of India's first, dedicated improv training school. "We will also collaborate with facilitators in the domain of dance and music, to bring a beautifully varied, yet cohesive set of programmes to help an artist in multiple domains, to learn and embrace the primciples of improv into their performances." The school will operate out of Indiranagar and workshops and courses will begin in September, Nasir explains.
What: Improv Comedy show by Improv Comedy Bangalore (ICB)
When: July 6, at 7pm to 8:30pm
Where: MyBoTree, 5th Block, Koramangala