October sees the Würzburg Improfestival, this year its eleventh and my second. It was a chance to study with wonderful international teachers – Patti Stiles and Matthieu Loos, in my case – reunite with a core of my Improv Olympic cohort and enjoy playing together again, and to socialise with the wonderful, diverse body of attendees, including old friends from last year and others not seen since Canada in 2010. Oh! The shows! From wonderfully dishevelled cabaret-style chat to long-form reinventions, together with time-honoured formats…I enjoyed it a lot. (I also got myself back into the lighting booth for a few of them, which was tremendous fun.) If nothing else, consider this me urging you to go next year.
I caught a Micestro show during my stay, which was a great example of the form at its best: bitty in parts, sluggish early on, but building in confidence and playfulness to a glorious end; a great arc to the evening. The wonderful Filipe Ortiz came out top, with a solo prison break scene that will forever stick in my memory, but another scene moves me to write. Christian Capozzoli of NYC’s 4track, was called up along with Jim Libby, a top-rate improviser I’ve seen before in Wurzburg and at the London impro festival, and I was looking forward to seeing in action here. But in the scene that followed, Jim didn’t get to say a thing. Really, didn’t get to do a thing. Christian steamrollered the scene. And it was brilliant.
Let me unpack. The scene was a police interrogation, and Christian was the cop. He began talking, a tough mouthy new york plainclothes, establishing a situation that was pretty close to the bone – Jim was under suspicion of murdering children in a theme restaurant ball pond. You could kind of feel in the room this sense of ‘we’re going there?’, but Christian stuck with it, and kept talking rat-a-tat at Jim, and… it started to become apparent that this OTT cop was enough for a scene, and Christian knew it and was feeling happy and good about it being that, and that he saw that Jim was being overwhelmed but in a fun way. And that he realised that he could give his partner a ride on the crazy train.
Then it just kicked off. All the emotional tonal switches in the scene that prevent it being monotone? Christian was good cop and bad cop moment to moment, beseeching then outraged. All the content he generated got fed back into the next round, feeding himself constantly in a stream of consciousness that stopped making sense and became cut-up poetry in interrogation format. Plastic drinking cups led to the murderous plastic of the ball pond, and on to beach creatures maimed by 6-pack connectors, to later him delivering his righteous smackdown in the voice (and flapping, ridiculous gait) of the one-legged seagull.
And as this went on, what was Jim doing? Corpsing like crazy. Every muscle of his body was convulsing as Christian brought the ridulousness up notch after notch, rabid and careening in his face. It looked like torture: pure, blissed-out torture.
If you can delight your partner more by breaking every rule, do that. Jim had a great, active show, but I’m sure he had the best time in that scene where he didn’t have to do a thing.