31 January 2012

Improv comedy in Tonga

I never thought that coming to Tonga would make me an improv comedy performer. Shortly after we moved to Tongatapu last year, I joined ON THE SPOT (OTS), a community-focused arts organization that puts on quarterly performances, offers occasional weekly sessions of film classes, performs modern dance at increasingly frequent charity events around town, and brings together a small core group of talented visual artists, musicians, dancers, and writers. After a full day of something like analyzing cash flow statements, it was a welcome relief to ride out to the old warehouse we use as a practice/performance space and dance or practice improv for three hours, twice a week.

We're all about to go to sleep onstage

I've always appreciated a creative outlet, and frequently used it- whether in designing clothes, painting, printmaking, or writing (including this blog, in fact). But I never thought I'd be an amateur improv comedian. Last month, I performed with a team for about an hour during the OTS December Stage Fright event. Stage Frights happen roughly four times a year put on by OTS members, and are themed differently for each show, whether it's dance, poetry, theatre, or, as the theme was this time, music. For this show, the first act was composed of the practiced performances- a dance by a group of kids that came to a dance workshop, an original song by a member, and other songs and dances we'd practiced throughout the last few weeks. I sang backup in two of the songs, and had my own number- a beat poem I'd written to background music.

Three lions challenge the audience

A musical interlude gives the performers a break
Act two was all musically-themed improvisation- something I never could have done last year. Several months ago, a partner organzation of OTS (in more ways than one- our creative director is engaged to theirs) from New Caledonia came to run workshops with us and in a handful of Tongan secondary schools. Called Pacifique et Compagnie, they specialize in improv, and spent the week training us and sharing their techniques. At the beginning, there were awkward silences and nervous laughter. At the end, there was a full, seamless performance and the only laughter was the appreciative hoots from the audience. Since then, we've continued to practice our improv skills, and have really enjoyed semi-spontaneous performances at various shows, including this one.

But OTS isn't all Stage Fright shows and improv. 

Ebonie is the creative director
In November, one of the members was involved in planning Tonga's first film festival (which, incidentally, we did perform improv as an audience warm-up opening number of the night). The festival was held in a school hall, which increasingly filled up as the night went on. The films ranged from the very polished shorts of the organizer to the home-filmed shaky and charming clips acted entirely by kids. Earlier in the year, several members organized a visual arts show, which was held outside on the waterfront, and one of the members spent most of the year as a crew on the kalia trip that raises environmental awareness called Pacific Voyagers.

What's even more impressive is that all of this is done with very little or no funding, embodying the prevalent reality of Tonga that if you want something to happen, you just go ahead and organize it. On the other hand, the lack of funding availability- no grants offered through the government, no local philanthropic organizations, and a public not willing or not able to pay for art or artistic performances has really limited what the group can do. Next year, we will have to face the hard reality of losing our performance space- the old warehouse is being sold- and we will have nowhere to relocate to without the operating funds to pay rent on another performance/practice space.

Three TV characters ambush a viewer
Next year, other than trying to find a new space and funding for it, we'll hopefully be performing in the Pacific Arts Festival in July, a huge event held every four years that brings together arts groups from all around the Pacific, and is an explosion of colour, movement, and talent to assault the senses. Several members are also organizing a more professional night of modern dance we'll sell tickets to, and Stage Fright performances will go on as usual, bringing together crazy performances, good music, and probably, a bit of improv.

Hard-core training at "Lady Gaga camp"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails