Improv fans savor spontaneity of play
KUNMING — A unique stage play titled Story Pawnshop was recently performed in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, leaving audiences enchanted.
But, unlike conventional, wellrehearsed plays, Story Pawnshop had a distinctive flavor — the show was performed without stage-setting, props, costumes or even a script, with the artists improvising their dialogue and acting.
Featuring a medley of audiences’ own stories staged through improvisation and original music, the 120-minute play belongs to a genre called improvisational theater.
It is a form of theater in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted, relying on the spontaneity of the performers.
The performance in the city’s No 88 Theater located on Nanqiang Street was savored by more than 100 improv enthusiasts.
Before the show began, Su Ai, a doctor, had given the actors a story she had written about herself and her father who had just died.
The actors recreated fictional scenes depicting Su and her father and put together a touching moment — their family reunion.
“I’d like to thank all the performers for their excellent work. Their dialogue was composed of words that I could never express to my father,” Su, 33, said. “The final reunion was just like a dream for me.”
Several other stories of audiences were randomly selected by the performers for improvisation, with laughter and tears permeating the theater.
“Improv was introduced to China by troupes in Shanghai and Beijing more than a decade ago, receiving enthusiastic responses from local audiences,” said Wang Wentao, deputy head of Yuandong Troupe that produced Story Pawnshop.
Wang added that the initial success encouraged his troupe to perform in Kunming.
The troupe has been putting on shows at the No 88 Theater every weekend since August, and tickets have sold out almost every time.
Experts believe that the surging popularity of improv, like that of traditional opera and experimental theater, is part of a larger trend honoring stagecraft rather than films and teleplays as wealthier Chinese people seek more diverse forms of entertainment.
“Improv features interactions with audiences, giving us a sense of participation in the performance,” said Yang Guai, a 28-year-old programmer who watches improv plays almost every week. “It has become a good way to relieve stress.”
Zhang Tao, founder of Yuandong Troupe, said: “One of the audiences has watched our improvisational performances eight times, which perhaps suggests a promising future for the improv market. We are now recruiting and nurturing more actors interested in this genre.”
Zheng Siqi, 20, deems improv a way of life. “I joined the drama club on the university campus and regularly imitated professional troupes to rehearse some improvisational plays,” Zheng said, adding that improv pays more attention to acting itself than costumes or props, which is why it is more suitable for beginners.