I probably don’t enjoy this time of the year as much as I should. For me, the holidays are more stressful than happy, and I end up with just enough time off of work and school to evaluate the past year while I clean my house and brace myself for the next one. I was in some desperate need of cheering up this evening, and it came in the surprising form of a Facebook invitation. It was politely asking me to attend No Pants 2k9, an event planned by Improv Everywhere, a NYC based group that has been organizing and performing guerilla theatre since 2001.
Contemporary improvisational comedy is a type of performance that is drastically different than the theatre I am interested in pursuing, but I’ve had a soft spot for the art form ever since I ran tech for an improv troupe during my first couple years of college. But this isn’t your average improv routine that eventually deteriorates to sex jokes. Instead, Improv Everywhere pre-determines and plans a situation they would like to act out in public. The Improv Everywhere website catalogs video footage of each performance or “mission” they embark on. Tonight I watched every single one, and between my laughs, I couldn’t help thinking that the performances embody some of the qualities I value very much in theatre. For starters:
1. They are not elitist. In fact, they don’t even play to theatre-goers, but rather tourists, shoppers, dog walkers, joggers, students, or anyone else who was lucky enough to be hanging around the performance site. The most intimate mission was a romantic comedy-esque coincidence staged for a single cab driver, who was able to play the hero by uniting two of his passengers after realizing they were trying to find each other.
2. They use their resources wisely. Thousands of people come to New York City to pursue theatre and performance because of the obvious hub of spaces, theatre companies, training facilities and networking capabilities. The people behind Improv Everywhere, however, use the city itself as their playing space. Everything from the Washington Square Park fountain to the 6 train becomes their stage. The most brilliant space they utilized was the six-story open storefront window in Union Square, where they positioned one person per slot, each enacting a routine for the people below.
3. There is a high level of energy for all involved. The performers are all psyched to be involved, even if their only job is to dial a cell phone number at a specific time a block away from the event. Although some of the missions lean more towards performance art than drama, they usually draw a huge crowd that screams, claps, and cheers. One of the most sentimental missions was to research a little-known band playing in a crappy venue and show up as die hard fans. They brought over thirty audience members to an otherwise three person house. They had memorized the songs, made t-shirts, and even sported fake tattoos of the band. In response, the band pumped up their energy and took on the part of real rock stars, including rushing back to the stage after their set to play the encore that was being demanded by the crowd.
If you have a little bit of free time now that the holidays are over, watch a video or two. They’re hilarious, and many of them are heart-warming. More importantly, they’re an inspiring reminder of the capability of our creativity and the value of theatre: A celebration of action, reaction and interaction.