My own theater group Schwung (which basically means Oomph) has been quite busy lately. On both March 13th and March 18th they played a theater sports match. Both of the times, I had the luxury of seeing them from an audience perspective. This is not usually the case, as mostly I’ll have a job to do as well: being one of the actors, the presenter, one of the judges… There’s always so much to do. These shows were different, because the first show was hosted by another team and the second show we choose a slightly different format; a mash-up.
Schwung vs. Pozu – Theater sports match
Nijmegen’s theater group Pozu had invited Schwung for a classic theater sports match on March 13th. The whole shebang with judges in costumes, roses and sponges for the audience to throw at the actors and judges, and two teams of actors eagerly to score most points for their scenes. As you may know by now, it’s not my favorite kind of improving theater, but nevertheless I was very much looking forward to seeing this show. And not at all entirely biased by the fact that Boyfriend Ruud was playing with Schwung especially for this occasion (he actually left the group last year), although it may have altered my enthusiasm a tiny bit.
Schwung immediately started of with a very amusing intro. Three of them lay on the ground in rather awkward positions, the fourth (who was bravely taking on the role of storyteller in his very first performance!) amused us with a story of spring, and animals transforming into completely new bodies. It was fun to see the actors literally come to life on stage.
Schwung then proceeded with the game The Dating Show, for which they asked bags from people in the audience. Usually I’m the one asking for a bag myself, this time I was eagerly waving my bag around, hoping they’d chose it for their scene. Which they did! One of the actresses used the contents of my bag to build her character. Which was hilarious, considering I had stuffed my bag with warm woolen hats, multiple gloves and two socks. Yes, socks, and they didn’t even match. I can explain, really. One was there because I had a new phone but no phone case yet and the other one just dropped in there accidentally. I swear. I hadn’t even remembered I had all of this in my bag. It was hilarious to see this all appear on stage, knowing the actress would have to find a way to make it super logical she had this all in her bag. The only thing I didn’t quite understand, was why ‘my’ actress would put all these hats and gloves on for the first part of the scene, telling the guy (my guy) that she was always cold, only to take it all of immediately afterwards. It would have been much more fun to see continuity in this character, having her shiver throughout the scene while wearing all these things. She was not the only one doing this, all characters dismissed their items rather quickly after showing them. I think we can definitely learn from this. I think a character will be so much stronger if we see all these traits build up, especially when clothes or accessories are involved.
My favorite scene from Schwung was probably the Survivor, a game in which a scene is played four times over, with one less actor each time. So in the end, one actor has to play all characters. It was hilarious to watch. The characters all had their quirks, which is such a thankful detail in the repetitions. There was also quite a bit of movement and different stage positions, which made the last scene hilarious to watch. Pozu added to the scene brilliantly by playing background puppets (the scene played in amusement park Efteling). This showed how valuable it is to play together, as opposed to truly competing with each other.
Schwung also had one actor who was performing for the very first time. This showed sometimes, as he didn’t know about some basics in each game or he struggled a bit to get the story going. But not for one moment was any of this awkward to watch. It all happened in a split second, so perhaps the rest of the audience didn’t even notice. The other actors were always on top of everything, helping him out to shine on stage while helping the scene develop in the process. Big kudos for the actors, as this is truly what improv theater is about. It’s a team thing, everyone is supposed to look out after each other and never leave someone struggle on stage. Schwung definitely succeeded in that, and by that they gave this actor a very positive experience and the audience a very nice show to watch.
The show wasn’t all Schwung, obviously, so let’s talk about Pozu! I already mentioned their great team spirit, which showed when they were playing the extras in Schwung’s Survivor. But on their own they did some great things as well. I probably laughed hardest during their Blind Cluedo. They had to solve a murder by acting out a profession, location and murder weapon, but they had a major handicap: the person guessing what they were doing was blindfolded. Only able to rely on their ears, the blindfolded people turned everything into completely different things, which was hilarious to watch. Although sometimes they weren’t even that far off, which was all the more admirable.
I had never seen this blind edition of Cluedo before. And this wasn’t the only new game Pozu showed me. They also did a scene in which one of them was playing a priest preaching his sermon. He had not clue as to what he was supposed to be talking about though, as he had been send away while the audience hose his subjects. These subjects were acted out by the other actors, who were visitors at his church. All this time, the priest had to continue preaching as if he completely knew what he was talking about. He did this most brilliantly. The whole thing was hilarious to watch. Hmm, perhaps I liked this scene even more than the Blind Cluedo. I have forgotten the name of this scene though, so if anyone knows, please let me know.
Of course in a theater sports performance it’s not all about he scenes. It’s about the whole show built around it. And as the host of the evening, Pozu did quite well. They had hired one of Nijmegen’s most prestigious improv piano players, who always knows exactly how to choose the right music to go with the scenes. I think there is not one movie soundtrack (or song in general) he doesn’t know. He played it all, from the Efteling music to the Harry Potter theme.
Then there was the presenter, who had a really uplifting spirit and was dressed as a giant bee, because the evening was spring-themed. What’s not to like? The audience had roses to throw at the actors and perfectly wet sponges to throw at the judges, and we were encouraged to do so by Mr. Bee multiple times. The judges were dressed in their robes, looking all official and stern. The whole atmosphere was perfect for a theater sports match.
The only thing I would have loved to have seen differently, was the way the judges judged. In my opinion, a scene which didn’t go too well can never be scored with just one point. Judges are not there to punish the actors, they’re there to help them. They are coaches, directors even, camouflaged as evil characters. If a scene didn’t go to well, they should probably give themselves one point for not having intervened, instead of the actors. Interventions should be made during the scene, not afterwards. Aside from that, actors are mostly fully aware of the fact things didn’t go quite as planned. Having that confirmed by three judges in front of an audience doesn’t help them getting their spirit back. Unfortunately, this is how many theater sports teams judge. I would so love this seeing shifted towards the way judged were originally intended.
Aside from this, it was a really fun evening with a lot of high-quality scenes. It was nice sitting in the audience for a change, seeing my own team play. If you’d like to see the hosting team Pozu play yourself, then check their website for upcoming performances.
Schwung, Binnenste-Buiten and Extra Stout – Theater Sports Mash-Up
Only six days after the above performance, I saw Schwung play again! This time Schwung was hosting the event and the format of theater sports was slightly tweaked. No judges were present, no sponges were available, just actors, roses and fun. Schwung played a theater sports mash-up with two other teams from Nijmegen; Binnenste-Buiten, meaning Inside Out, and Extra Stout, meaning Extra Naughty (and it’s also a beer brand, I wonder if this had anything to do with their name picking). In this mash-up, the different teams literally mashed up; every scene would consist of actors of different teams.
I loved this concept, as the judges often take up too much time of the performance anyway, in my opinion. However, they do exist for a reason. As I said above, they are there to make sure the scenes have a nice flow; they interrupt when necessary to boost the scene and they keep the scenes from becoming too obscene (no swearing allowed!). I wondered if the lack of judges would also mean lack of quality of the scenes.
It sure wasn’t, though! We had one hell of a presenter who not just presented the scenes and sat pretty in between. She also tried to steer the scenes in the right direction. Before the scene would start, she would make sure the audience would give valuable input for the actors and she would make sure a scene would not consist of too many players. During the scene she would sometimes intervene by shouting a very short suggestion that helped the scene to a higher level. Kudos for her, she did such a great job.
The actors had some difficulties getting into the right energy in the beginning. Maybe this had to do with them not usually acting together as a team, I don’t know. It could also just have been a coincidence. Sometimes a performance simply won’t start off with a bang. That’s just the risk of improv. A pity, as they were playing in a hospital, which had so much potential. It asked for contrast, craziness and emotional outbursts. But it all stayed kind of peaceful and mellow. This definitely had nothing to do with the enthusiasm of the actors though, as this was clearly present in all of them.
The quality of the scenes greatly improved as the evening was progressing though, with the actors absolutely thriving after the intermission. They even took the challenge of playing some scenes with the entire cast, which consisted of eleven actors. That is very brave, as we never rehearse such scenes. After all, in a regular theater sports match it is never necessary. Also, theater sports players usually have the tendency to all wanting to play the main role in a scene. So I was really curious to see if they could pull this off.
Turns out they could! First of all, the presenter made some very smart choices, by teaming them up into several groups, instead of letting them all play as contrasting individuals. A very wise decision, as it became less cluttered on stage and it gave clear structure to the scene already. The actors used this structure well and really supported each other in the choices that were made. When for example one of them mentioned poisoned coffee, the four people drinking it all dropped dead immediately, without any stalling. These little details showed tremendous teamwork and scene overview.
Another scene in which all actors were present was the last scene, which was a Dubbed Song Festival. Every group of actors represented a different country, which they portrayed in a beautiful stereotypical way. I usually don’t like this game very much, as it has no depth whatsoever and mostly turns out to be a collection of completely foolish acts. And dubbing makes it even worse. However, for this evening it was the perfect ending, as all the actors had been given one more chance to shine. This wouldn’t have been possible in a regular musical scene, I guess. And to be honest, they pulled it off! They had me enjoying a Dubbed Song Festival! They didn’t make complete fools out of themselves, but instead tried to create an awesome show with dancing choreographies, surprising entries and comedic acts. I loved it!
To be honest, I like this mash-up format a lot better than the classical theater sport matches. I would love to see (and do) a mash-up more often. It’s so much fun to mix up actors, use the ability of playing with more than four actors at once and not having stern judges saying bad things about the scenes all the time. This format had such a positive vibe to it. For it to work though, it should be lead by a talented presenter who has a very good scene overview. Which on this evening absolutely was the case.
If you live in the area and would like to check one of these groups out, you can check out their websites to see when they will perform next. For Schwung, click here, for Binnenste-Buiten, click here and for Extra Stout, click here. Also, more Theater Thursdays are coming up very soon, as I will visit multiple theater performances in the upcoming weeks. So if you don’t want to miss my next reviews, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog. By the way, did you know I have almost finished my goal of visiting 25 theater performances? I am currently at 22. That means I have only got three shows left to go before I can cross it off my list!