This is my 20th year of performing in our late show at the Melbourne Town Hall. I am privileged to have been a part of this Impro Melbourne phenomenon since the beginning, and the one member of our company who has been there every year! A lot of my shoe leather is on that pavement.
Back in 1996 Russell Fletcher, IM’s then AD and Brian Lohmann (lovely improviser from San Francisco) got chatting to Susan Provan, the Festival Director, in the Peter Cook Bar. She offered them the Powder Room for 2 nights at 11pm. The deal was we would take care of everything ourselves: publicising the event, taking cash at the door, organising the cast. She would give over the venue for a percentage of the takings. Russell and Brian asked improvisors visiting with their shows and also local performers, including myself. I had just moved down to Melbourne and was still getting to know everyone. Those first two shows were a grand introduction! I took money at the door, handed out quickly printed up handbills for our ‘late night jam’ in the street outside and then took the stage.
The first night was a lot of shouting and pointing, 15 players trying to prove they should be there, chaotic. The second night Russell and Brian pulled us all together, this time just 8, gave us strong notes about supporting each other and made the decision that we would simply ask the audience for a word – and use that to springboard from. Scenes might relate to something that happened in the scene before or players could simply come on and begin. I had never played like that before. My experience in Sydney had mostly been to have game or scene structures around everything … to simply go with the flow …. Terrifying! Amongst the cast that night were The Three Canadians, Eric, Derek and North - the ‘darlings’ of the Festival that year with their fabulous brand of improvised mayhem. The word the audience gave us was “Butterfly. I played support in a couple of scenes and then … Derek Flores came onto one side of the stage and started sweeping, no words. I entered on the other side, also sweeping. We made eye contact, no words, shyly looking away. A Low Status Love Scene was born. In the midst of all the verbal cleverness and noise we simply played these quiet little street sweepers too shy to talk but deeply in love with each other. I had just met Derek that night but it was as if we had been playing together for years, such is his generosity and skill, combined with his work with Keith. It ended with a little shy kiss and the ‘butterfly’ fluttered over us. That scene is in my memory as one of the best I have ever played. That night I learned about creating variety for the audience, trusting in your scene partner, and that impro leads us to unexpected and exciting moments, if we let it.
We were the only show in that late night slot for 10 years. Now there are twenty one.
Over the years we have performed in pyjamas (courtesy of Peter Alexander), always featured international and interstate guests as well as showcasing the talent of our own company, tramped the streets outside the Town Hall for two decades, handing out flyers with a smile, performed over a dozen formats and still I get excited each year to bring that last laugh of the night to audiences across the Festival. I will be there with my walker in another decade.
And to share the stage with my company and our guests … especially my street sweeping buddy, Derek Flores.
If you missed us on stage together last Friday night, our 20 year reunion, be sure to come along and see him play again as our guest this Saturday April 2nd. Or check out his impro skill with El Jagua-Fiesta! his show at the Forum.