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May 26, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Thank God, It’s… Improv – Improvalini

Derek Flores’ particular brand of comedy is a very heady mix of shouting, satire and and laying his bleeding weeping soul profoundly bare for the audience to pick at like the twisted predators they are. He hurls his heart onto the stage like a rotting comedy lump of meat.

I’m not afraid to admit that in the past Flores’ persona (well, personas when you consider the multitude of alternative selves he slips into on stage, most famously El Jaguar his failed Mexican wrestler character) has run very hot and cold with me. He entertains by sheer force of personality. Sometimes he hits the humour button, sometimes it runs real dry.

With the debut of Improvalini, a new improv format in the 21st of May slot of WIT’s regular Thank God It’s… Improv Friday 11pm slot, Flores took the emotion exposure inherent in his work to its ultimate extent . Improvalini is named for genius Italian filmmaker Frederico Fellini who dealt with ideas of memory and the archetypes that run through our lives. Fellini always discussed these things on very personal terms. Flores hoped to recreate that same sense of dreamlike honesty at 11pm. At BATS. On a Friday. Big challenge.

Over the hour and a little bit that the show took, Flores took us on an improvised journey through his memories, angsts and neuroses, focusing on his fractious relationship with his father. “My father was an asshole,” was how Flores began the show.

There is a clear line of relationship between Improvalini and the practice of playback theatre. The difference being that in playback theatre the reenacted stories come not from the director but from the audience. This raising an interesting question of this show’s relationship with its audience. What are we to it? Witnesses? Bystanders? Victims? Therapists? Should we be laughing with Flores or at him? How much of the tragic clown do we need him to be?

Using his nattily dressed cast of Christine Brooks, Paul Sullivan, Woody Tuhiwhai, Danni Taylor, and Merrilee McCoy and accompained by the Robbie Ellis orchestra and Derran Woods on lights, Flores wove a distorted and complex hour of his deepest and most personal memories and moments. It was pretty funny. Not as funny as you would normally expect Friday night improv to be but that’s not the point here.

It was also maybe the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever seen. Which is not a bad thing. Within Flores’ search for meaning (my most abiding memory of the show was him attacking an audience member for not taking it seriously – “I just wanted to make something than means something.”), in his public journey inward, there were moments of the quite severely profound and the oddly beautiful.

While there was a large element of TMI to the show – a lot of my notes from the show itself read ‘Seriously?!’ or ‘Oh Jesus.’ – it never becomes too too much. While it may have been rather lost on the drunk Friday night crowd, I think that Flores succeed. This was a show that meant something.

The most enthralling part of the evening was watching Flores observe the improvised recreations of his past, his face was a compelling know of conflicted emotions. In the theatre it is so easy to learn to live without the true human emotion (I find myself going away from more and more plays thinking ‘It was good but I just didn’t feel anything.’) that should be omnipresent.

This show of Improvalini was a night of real proper emotion. It was was improv so often strives to be but so often fails to achieve – art. I will admit that I have reservations about the format in and of itself. It seems a little too built towards unappealing naval gazing. There is also a real question about how and where and when you’d program a longer season of this format.

The show that happened on the night of the twenty-first of May was really something, I just hope it wasn’t lightening in a bottle. One wonders how Flores could catch it in the same bottle.

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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