08 Jan Introducing Nursery Digital Originals 2021 (And Their Directors!)
The Nursery Originals are improv shows that are developed, directed, and performed by improvisers from across the community with support from The Nursery Theatre. From improvised interactive escape rooms to stories told only through soundscapes and cuddly toys (and everything in the middle), all of our Originals shows in the past have endeavored to push the boundary of improvised performances.
For the 2021 spring season, we are happy to introduce two new digital originals and the guest directors leading them. “All three directors are improvisers we’ve met as a result of improv largely moving online – excitingly none of them are resident in the UK where our theatre has historically been based. It’s so wonderful to watch the creativity, enthusiasm and talent that is being shared around the world!” adds Chris Mead, the Nursery’s acting Artistic Director who is leading our Originals programming this season.
Our first show is Celebration!, a 25-minute improvised play in the form of a party that honors heritage, culture and traditions which reflects who we are in the world. It is conceptualized and directed by M.J. Kang. They have directed long-form genre improvised plays, short-form improv and theatrical plays for various theatre companies including Impro Theater (Los Angeles) , Hideout Theater (Austin, TX), Son of Semele (Los Angeles), Playground LA (Los Angeles, The 4208 Group (Baltimore) and at many others.
The second show is The Improv News Hour, a nostalgic news show where you can be 100% sure that all the news is made up! It is conceptualized and directed by Pratham Sarwate and Varoon P. Anand. Pratham is a musician, a digital illustrator, and a freelance UI designer who has recently taken to doing improv online. Varoon is the Artistic Director of Kaivalya Plays and is dedicated to performing and exploring the mental health applications of Improv along with training people from all walks of life in the art of improvisation – he co-founded Improv8 at the Theatre Guild of Ancón in Panama in 2008, co-founded CueLess Improv in Delhi in 2014 and since 2018, been the director of Unravel, an improv play about mental health commissioned by the Goethe-Institut India.
We had a chance to interact with the three directors about their experience with improvisation, especially in the past year, and what they are hoping to achieve with their show. Here’s what they said.
Q. Tell us more about how you came up with the theme for your show. Was there a specific moment or incident that you experienced (perhaps, online) that inspired you?
MJ Kang: I grew up in Toronto, Canada in an area where many new immigrants live. We were all low income and despite all of us coming from different areas of the world, my friends and the community invited us into their worlds – their homes and celebrations. I would go over to my friends’ homes and share meals with them, be part of their lives. My teacher would also invite me and my middle sister over to her house for dinner and crafts and I would play with her younger daughter. My Italian language teacher would come over to our house for homemade lasagna my mother made from scratch to honor his heritage. Recently, during the pandemic, I started teaching storytelling to this same community online. The participants were so open and welcoming in their personal storytelling. I was told I create a safe space for them and they relished participating every week. Here was this class full of new immigrants from all over the world, finding commonalities and relatable experiences to share and be witness to. I wanted to bring some of the experiences I had as a child and my recent experiences into the improv world – where people who are who they are in the world, celebrate together.
Pratham Sarwate: Varoon was exploring a surreal improv show concept around an abstract idea of weather, and brought it up for discussion. It sounded really fascinating, but I got sidetracked. Starting with weather, I ended up leaning heavily into the idea of a TV broadcast that could contain a weather report along with some more fun elements. So here we are!
Varoon P. Anand: I was looking at the work of Cage and Cunningham and a line Cunningham, “in the weather it’s impossible to say when something begins or ends.” and was thinking of another show I wanted to make with that idea. While brainstorming with Pratham we started with the idea of a weatherman and Pratham expanded it into a news broadcast.
Q. How has your experience been with online improv over the past year? What have you liked (and more importantly, what you would like to see less of?
MJK: I have enjoyed meeting, playing and working with people all over the world. I have grown as an improviser because of this – playing with different people – understanding their styles, how best to approach a scene, while being in the moment has challenged me in many ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I had just continued with my local groups. Honestly, being Zoom fatigued is a real thing and while I love the online format, I will be glad to get back into a physical space. Of course, I still want to continue with online improv. I just need more of a balance – to save myself from exhaustion and my eyes too.
PS: Improv has been an integral part of maintaining my mental health through the past year. I actually started doing improv online, and it helped me make many new friends, across geographies. I’ve shared a lot of fun jams with strangers too (though I feel we’ve always left the jam rooms as more than that). One thing I love about online improv is its potential to reach and connect so many different people across the world – which would never be logistically possible in offline improv.One thing I would like to see less of is the audio delay so we can really do online musical improv the right way.
VA: Online improv was a necessity for us to reach out to our community that was isolated. It has also allowed us to work with people it would have been impossible to work with otherwise. I would like to see more shows like this, built with planning and practice. I would also like to see more improvisers commit to making safety practices an integral part of the work.
Q. As someone who is directing an online improv show, what is going to be your #1 priority during the rehearsal period?
MJK: My number one priority is to create a safe space where everyone feels supported and valued. Also, I don’t want to waste people’s time.
PS: My priority will be leading the team towards the vision of a nostalgic improvised news broadcast – both creatively and technically.
VA: My principal role is in communicating with the performers. My priority becomes to give clear instructions, targets they can aspire to, and to build rapport between the players
Q. What is it about the online space (and the related technology) do you foresee playing a significant part in your show, if at all?
MJK: I am still developing how I want the show to look and the technology we may use. I value not making things needlessly complicated. If I can add a little something special that doesn’t require a lot of energy and time, I will.
PS: As the show will take place in a newsroom – which often features correspondents in a set or in front of a greenscreen – we see an opportunity to leverage filters and virtual backgrounds to embellish the show for deeper visual immersion. There’s a few more things we’re planning, but I would like to not spoil everything just yet. 😉
VA: there are so many options we want to look at without making it too tech heavy. But the challenge of re-creating a nostalgic time period and a newsroom allows us to explore tech options for how the show will look visually.
Q. The improv community has been ‘online’ for a while now, and so have their audiences. What do you think online improv shows in 2021 need to get right or conversely, what do audiences really care about?
MJK: I know I want to watch shows that are relatable, positive and I feel connected to. I want to see characters and scenes that have meaning. I want to laugh, cry a bit and think about life in ways that make me see the world slightly differently afterwards – to see what is possible. I need hope in my life – that there is genuine goodness in this world and that is what I hope to bring with this show, Celebration!
PS: There’s just so much content online today – both short-form (Instagram, YouTube, etc) and long-form (Netflix, Disney+, etc). There’s often something “better” or, more importantly, easier to watch. It’s vital that we are accessible – that means streaming free events to Instagram, Facebook and YouTube so people can watch with the least friction. Paid events are still tricky to pull off, because everyone is already subscribed to enough entertainment services that there is resistance in paying for more.We also need to ensure a baseline production quality (avoiding glitchy filters/backgrounds, using mics that don’t crack, having a stable enough internet connection, etc) and then really focus on building memorable stories and characters because those are what audiences really connect with (and even many Netflix/Disney shows and movies still lack them).
VA: I think we have to remember that when we do improv on a screen, it makes us compete against streaming entertainment options. So, we have to take advantage of what makes us different from that (interactivity) and work harder on what is similar (the quality of the material we put out there).
Q. Anything else you’d like for our readers to know about the show?
MJK: I am extremely thankful and appreciative of the time the cast have given me to work on this show and the work they’re willing to put into it – also their fearlessness in jumping right in by being accepting, curious, using their top of intelligence, skill, and being in the moment.
PS: If you’re someone who’s tired of watching the news because it’s too dark, toxic or depressing, this show is an attempt to give you some relief. We hope you have a fun time watching it and feel like coming back for more.
VA: We really hope people come, have a great time and enjoy a bit of escapism into a time that may feel a bit warmer and kinder through rose-tinted glasses.
We are excited to collaborate with MJ, Pratham and Varoon to create something new this season, along with the host of global improvisers that will feature in their shows! “Online improv is such a young art form and, here at The Nursery, we’re so pleased to be able to support its growth and innovation. I can’t wait to see what these casts and creative teams come up with.”, adds Chris, who is working closely with the two shows to provide them support and guidance for a smooth digital run.
Shows: Jan 16, Jan 30 and Feb 6 (Saturdays)
Timings: 7PM GMT to 8PM GMT
RSVP Link: https://fb.me/e/2lLg1KBmW
The Improv News Hour
Shows: Feb 20, Mar 6, Mar 13 (Saturdays)
Timings: 6:30PM GMT to 8PM GMT
RSVP Link: https://fb.me/e/KRqlhtVq
Shows will be streamed LIVE on the Nursery Facebook Page (Link) – so block your calendars, see you soon!
P.S. We periodically invite applications for new show proposals under the Nursery Originals. If you’re interested, learn more about the initiative here and join our Newsletter to stay updated about the next open call for applications!