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  • Writer's pictureFeña Ortalli

REVIEW · Practice. Rehearse. Experiment. Play.

One of the things I love the most about our generation of improvisers is that it seems it’s up to us to create, invent, question, and publish theoretical material that actually reflects on our technique.

Mark Jane, English actor, director and teacher based in Paris, wrote the book Jeux et Enjeux in 2018. Now, he translated it into English and kindly sent it to us so we can read it and talk about it on Status.

· Creating Improvised Theatre. Tools, Techniques, and Theories for Short Form and Narrative Improvisation. (2021)

The book is divided into four sections: Nuts and bolts, where Jane shares the basic notions of improvisation; Short form; Narrative Improvisation; and The bits box, a final chapter where you can find warm-up games and show models.

Besides the importance of each section and the usefulness of the exercises and tips he shares; I find the Introduction the most interesting part of the book.

Here you can see an almost philosophical take on what improvisation was supposed to be, what actually is, and what it should be. (Thank you, Uncle Raymond).

Throughout a series of questions, Jane forces us to look inside and around us, and commit to take a stand and defend why (and what for) we do improvised theatre.

It’s always useful to go back to the origin, to the roots, to the essentials of what we do. Nuts and bolts is about that. And a bit more. In this part, we can go through different impro concepts and a few exercises (that might be well-known for some communities and brand new for others) combined with personal experiences and an omnipresent personal opinion that I find fundamental when writing a book. At the end of this part, the author dedicated a whole chapter to the experimentation with theatrical masks and its impact on our performance.

The following two parts of the book are dedicated to the most transcendental dichotomy of modern improvisation: Short Form and Narrative Improvisation.

What I enjoyed the most about the Short Form section is how Jane forces us to keep the focus on the story and not on the game. He offers a series of tools and exercises to expand the notion of short form and understand that it’s more than just jumping through fiery hoops. Special mention to the chapter Shape of the show and the concept of Jo Ha Kyu.

Narrative Improvisation is my thing. That’s what I do. That’s what I like. And, of course, this was the part of the book I find more useful for my artistic and pedagogical purposes. Mark Jane defines it as “an organized chaos”. And I couldn’t agree more.

This is the most theoretical part of the book and, as expected, it might scare some readers. Throughout these pages we read about Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell; we dive into narrative structures (with graphs and all); and archetypes. With almost 150 pages, this is the longest and most challenging part of the book.

By the end of the book, we have The Bits Box. Here you will find a series of warm-up exercises that we all know but probably never come to our minds when preparing a class or before a show. Very useful.

“Practice. Rehearse. Experiment. Play”. With these words, Mark Jane encourages us to keep working on getting better while questioning our status and expanding our comfort zones.

What I liked about it:

Creating Improvised Theatre... is the result of years and years of experience in the field and that makes it a must-have book for every improviser. It’s clear, complete, and interesting to read, and I’m sure I will go back to it often, especially before designing a course or teaching a class.

What I didn’t like about it:

Well, it’s no summer read. We are talking about a book that’s over 400 pages long, so it takes a high level of commitment in order to read it until the end. Besides that, it might be a little scary for improvisers that are not willing to dive this deep into our art form.

So, if you are an impronerd like me, you shouldn't hesitate in buying this book right away, I promise you won’t regret it.

Thank you Mark for your amazing work and for sending us a copy to read it!

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