Improv Evolved with the Performers of ImproMadrid



With one week until the beginning of the Sarasota Improv Festival at Florida Studio Theatre, Ignacio Lopez is feeling a wee bit nervous. As co-founder of the celebrated Spanish improv troupe ImproMadrid, Lopez performed in the festival in 2015, but something is very different this time. The show—part traditional theater and part improv—still needs to be translated from Spanish to English, and some of the wordplay has made that tricky. So Lopez is nervous. “But we have lots of confidence,” he says with a smile.

An improv performer for more than 20 years, Lopez has seen more than his fair share of interpretations, and one thing continued to bug him—that the practice always seemed so dressed down. Whereas traditional stage theater brings to mind visions of opulent staging and huge costumes, improv theater smacks more of minimalism—black t-shirts and black boxes in a black backdrop. On one hand, it makes sense, freeing the stage and performers to be whatever it or they need to be. On the other hand, according to Lopez, something is lost in all that freedom—purpose. “We want to talk about something,” he says. “We want to talk about love. We want to talk about time. We want to talk about memory.” So ImproMadrid blurs the lines.

There will be plenty of improvisation, but within a framework of written and planned traditional theater, complete with costuming, with scenes dedicated to exploring the aforementioned love, time and memory, but also fear. Outside of these scenes, using prompts and material gathered from a question-and-answer session with the audience at the beginning (a much more traditional improv approach), the performers of ImproMadrid live up to the name with their improvisational skills. It’s a tradeoff that works out just fine when the troupe tours Spanish-speaking countries, but raises a bit of a predicament when so much relies on a language the audience likely does not speak.

“The words you use have to go to the heart of the audience,” says Lopez, and if translation does not allow this, it’s up to the troupe to figure out how to convey what is lost using their bodies instead of their mouths. They have to adapt.

In addition to performing at the Sarasota Improv Festival, ImproMadrid will also be leading a workshop for both colleagues and aspiring performers. Called “How to Get to an End,” the workshop will focus on how to arrive at an ending onstage without letting the scene drag to a slow demise (a common improv pitfall that even marred the early years of Saturday Night Live). “It’s a place to grow,” says Lopez of the festival, and why ImproMadrid decided to lead a workshop. It’s a chance to “show your work,” he says, more than they ever can onstage, and a place to see “eye to eye” with fellow performers.

The Sarasota Improv Festival runs from July 12 to July 14 at Florida Studio Theatre.

Pictured: ImproMadrid in a performance of "Jardines." Image courtesy of Florida Studio Theatre.

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