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July 23, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Interview With Dan Pengelly

Having spent the last seven years as an improvisor with the Court Jesters in Christchurch, Dan Pengelly moved to Wellington this year to begin his Masters degree in Theatre Arts (Directing) at Toi Whakaari and Victoria. Recently returned, fatigued, from an international workshop in Canberra, Dan was obliging enough to let me pick his brains about the oft-disregarded theatre-form, improv, and its place in New Zealand.

You’ve just spent eight days in Canberra at Improvention. What exactly is that?

Improvention is a bunch of improvisational acting nerds getting together for eight days and being indulgent. Basically all the companies in New Zealand and Australia that can, come together and show off their best work, current ideologies and swap ideas. There is also a lot of partying, flirting, screwing the crew and lack of sleep. There are forums, presentations, heaps of workshops and three or four shows every night.

You have seven years’ experience with the Court Jesters in Christchurch. What more is there to learn about improv for someone like you at Improvention?

The one thing improv has taught me is that there is always more to learn. Those who stop learning die. Lots of improv is Theatresports- based, but there is a big movement towards ‘long-form’, which is basically an entire improvised play without stopping. For me, I was looking for ideas; going back to basics, being challenged by amazing tutors, and networking.

How does the improv scene in New Zealand compare to the rest of Oceania, or indeed the rest of the world?

Improv here in New Zealand can be as strong and as shit as it is anywhere else. There are a handful of Kiwi improvisors who are up there with the world’s best. What I am intrigued by, and encourage people to look for in improv, is a company who aim to keep getting better instead of doing the same stuff all the time.

What is your ideal vision for the future of improv here in Wellington?

I would love to see people lining up to see an improv show here and it selling out. I would love people to view it as professional as any other form of theatre. I would love to see a regular show here. I want people to go through Vic, Toi and Whitirea and want to audition for an improv troupe as a viable career.

You’re halfway through your first year of the MTA at Toi and Vic. How does improv fit into your aspirations to be a director?

As a director I want to work with a troupe on an ongoing basis. My main discipline is improvisation, so an improv troupe would be the ideal group to work with. My second discipline is devising, using improv. My thesis involves testing and building story archetypes, so improvisors are ideally suited to jumping in and playing around with my theories.

What is your take on theatre in Christchurch post-earthquake, and is there anything us Wellingtonians could learn from it?

Theatre in Christchurch post quake is rocking out! Scared Scriptless, which is the Christchurch improv show, and The Court Theatre’s productions have been selling out, with sales all above 75 per cent for every show this year. I think you can learn about a theatre group by knowing who their audience is and seeing what they want and what they might like. So mostly us artists looking into that, and thinking a bit more businessy.

Final comments?

Ah, go see fun shows that make your life more interesting!

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