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October 10, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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The Wishing Tree

The Friday 9th October presentation of The Wishing Tree was the first time that rather new format had been presented in New Zealand. Directed by the format’s creator, Improv Melbourne’s Rama Nicholas, and featuring improvisers from every troupe present in the 2009 New Zealand Improv Festival, the Wishing Tree was something both elegant and touching.

The chief concept and magic of the Wishing Tree is this: As the audience enters the theatre, they are each asked to write a wish on a little tag and tie it, with red string, to a small tree. Eventually the tree is wreathed in these wishes, like a swan plant covered in butterfly pupae – heavy with potential beauty. Later the tree is bought to the stage, where the improvisers each select a wish, and use them to launch the night’s tales. After each story has reached a conclusion the improviser that had introduced that wish stands to one side and rips the tag into pieces- scattering it and the story into the air. It’s all very moving.

As a conceit the tree is a very enticing way to solicit audience suggestions instead of ask-fors, and the tree was an excellent visual device, standing on the stage as a performer in it’s own right: a surrogate for the audience’s usual interaction with improvisers.

Some wishes are simply fulfilled, like a woman who leaves her job to row the Greek isles. Others take “be careful what you wish for” and move to create serious pieces of drama. One instance of this was the rather frivolous wish “I wish he’d fuck like a rabbit” which led to a pathos filled story anchored by Nicholas and Derek Flores, about a man who almost destroys his relationship by constantly cheating on Nicholas.

It was refreshing to encounter a long form game that wasn’t a spin off of Del Close’s 1967 creation, The Harold, as unlike Harold based long form games, each story didn’t twin and twine with each other. Instead the scenes and stories were left to burst or simmer for as long as they needed, without heed to the energies of their sibling stories. The scattered nature of the stories also allowed the more unconventional narrativistic elements of straight story telling and the framing device of paper ripping room and performative status enough to control what could, in the hands of poorer performers, become a student theatre style mess.

The performers who took part in the Wishing Tree spent a couple of days with Nicholas workshopping in the format, so hopefully the Tree or forms based upon the Tree will spread through out New Zealand’s improv troupes sooner rather than later. Already Wellington Improv Troupe has announced that they will be performing their own season of Wishing Trees in December, so if this sounds of interest you must go and experience the show for yourself.

The Wishing Tree was part of the New Zealand Improv Festival 2009, presented on Friday 9th Of October at Bats Theatre.

-Nic Sando

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About the Author ()

Nic Sando is a god amongst men, fifteen fathoms high he be, with strange and wyrd powers at his disposal. Only a fool won't harken his ears to the east when he hears The Sando man stumping his way.

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