“Men’s search for meaning”

„I mentioned art before. Can art even exist in a concentration camp? It depends of course on what we call art. From time to time improvised cabaret performances took place in the camp. At that time, one of the barracks was emptied, wooden benches were slid together – or nailed down and the program of the performance was arranged. In the evening, those who held a relatively good position in the camp hierarchy – the kapos and prisoners, who did not have to leave the camp and march to distant work places – gathered in the barrack. They would come there to laugh a little or to shed a tear – one way or another, to forget. The cabaret program included songs, poems, jokes, and satirical texts secretly related to camp life. All this had one purpose – to help us forget – and usually it served its purpose. The performances of the cabaret were so effective, that even ordinary prisoners visited the barracks (despite being extremely exhausted, and although this meant a loss of daily food portion for them).

(…)

For an outsider, the discovery that something like art was developing in the camp might come as a surprise; even more surprising, however, may be information that among the prisoners there were signs of a sense of humor, although of course they were only a pale reflection of true cheerfulness and rarely lasted longer than a few seconds or minutes. However, humor was another weapon of a tormented soul in the fight for survival and was an expression of self-preservation instinct. It is well known that a sense of humor, like no other character trait, allows a person to keep a distance and gives him the ability to rise – even for a short moment – over virtually any circumstance.

I remember training a friend of a fellow prisoner who worked next to me on a construction site, helping him develop his sense of humor. I proposed that we agree that each of us would come up with at least one funny anecdote every day about an event that could take place the day after our liberation from the camp. My companion was a surgeon, an assistant in the ward of one of the large hospitals. Once, I tried to make him laugh with a story of how he would find out after returning to work that he was not able to give up his habits related to camp life. It was generally accepted that at the construction site, the guarding kapo prisoners warmed us up to work faster – especially when the supervisor was just making a rounds – shouting loudly: “Do! Do!”. So I turned to my friend with these words: – Imagine that one day, when you are in the operating room again and you are undergoing major abdominal surgery, at some point the door to the room will open and a paramedic will come, announcing the arrival of the head of surgery with shouting: “Do! Do!”

Other fellow prisoners also came up with funny situations from the future, prophesying, for example, that they would forget themselves during dinner and while seeing the soup poured into the plates, they would beg for a portion from the „bottom of the cauldron”.

/ Victor E. Frankl, „Men’s search for meaning” (translated from Polish to English, so not perfect), photo from Auschwitz by Michael Ruetz


How to build a local improv community, based on a Polish festival.

We just finished the fifth edition of a local Gdańsk Improvisers’ festival Podaj Padaj. Thanks to Inkubator Kultury Kulmiasto, Weronika Uziak and Wojtek Tremiszewski for the organization.

I will tell you about our local community – and it doesn’t matter, that it’s Polish Tricity (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Sopot), because maybe you’ll find yourself in it, no matter where you’re from. I’ll recall the post from this blog, with conclusions from the first edition of the festival from four years ago to see, what have changed, and what have not. I’ll recall the google-forms, that 27 groups or projects filled during last week, and why was that important. I will share with you some conclusions from the discussion I hosted after the festival, which was focused on ideas for the future, to let us and our community grow.

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Why humor and improv are such a great pair

When I asked Juš Milčinski during on of our Ohana meetings to write this article, it was a bit of a joke from the beginning. Why? Because the premise was, that he will write it, but I have to keep reminding him to do so. So I kept bothering him, and kept waiting. And I received the text – a year later. But the incongruity here is, that then he waited another year for me to publish it. Here it is. Enjoy:

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12 steps to survive improv festival in Polish style.

There’s one month left to Mt. Olymprov Festival in Athens, Greece, and you can expect pretty big crowd of Polish improvisers. It’s not the first time, when we’re going somewhere with such a big group. I’ve heard several times positive things starting with “You, Polish people in festivals…” so I decided to give it a closer look. From the inside, and from the outside, with bigger context of different cultural behaviours. Below you can see the examples based on majority, of course. That may have nothing to do with you. You can make an alternative list. Now. Question. From 1 to 12, how do you fit Polish Style?

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Have your own brain.

I’m sitting in a beautiful theatre, during Polish film festival in Gdynia, waiting for another film to start. I’m here every year, for whole week, to see what’s going on in Polish cinema. Untill now I’ve seen, among others, oil painted film „Loving Vincent” about Van Gogh, a scientific film „Photon” about evolution of life and DNA since the big bang, about universe chemistry and physics, „Spoor”, very lovely, and dark picture of crime surrounded by animals by Agnieszka Holland, that may get an Oscar, „Panic attack”, a few connected stories about people on the edge of losing control. Very different movies. How is it connected to improv? Just a second.

This festival is strongly connected to my Gdynia Film School, where I was studying directing. I’ve been working with various, very experienced directors, actors, screenwriters, etc. Each of them had own artistic vision and philosophy. And we had exams, where we had to show our films. And during that, all of them were sitting in a row, watching. And giving notes after. You think you would get one answer? No. From the point of view of CRAFT, yes, they mostly agreed. But from the point of ART, you received all different feedback. And even if you’d like to please all of the teachers – it’s impossible.

And that was a great lesson for improv.

I smile silently when I hear that someone thinks he OWNS THE TRUTH. Knows the right way. I also smile silently when I hear that someone plays „slow improv”, because it’s true improv. Only Harold, because it’s The Improv. Or that there is one definition of improv that we all have to follow.

I rise my brows silently, when in the workshop (that I participate, or teach, doesn’t matter) someone comments „But <this cool famous teacher> said this <other thing>”.

What I want to say is HAVE YOUR OWN BRAIN.

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Around the World: “DO YOU LOVE THE COMMUNITY AS MUCH AS YOU LOVE ART FORM?” by Menelaos Prokos

When I asked Menelaos if he’d like to write something for me, he knew right away, what would that be about. Community. How surpiresed I was, when I got the  complete text not after a month, but the next day. But then I thought – why was I even surprised? When you’re a person, who brings improv to your country, build it from scratch, and after only five years has own company, venue and second edition of international Mt.Olymprov festival in Athens… you know the value of the community. I’m glad I could be a part of that festival, to feel the Vibe, to learn, and to perform with this inspiring Greek – and I can say, it was the best community atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at the festival. I couldn’t agree more with Menelaos and I’m really glad, I can publish his article now, just before starting the new season – and I hope that Polish community will pay attention and make plans together for next year, and grow stronger!

“DO YOU LOVE THE COMMUNITY AS MUCH AS YOU LOVE THE ART FORM?”

Menelaos Prokos

Have you given any thought to how important community is for the growth and evolution of the art of improvised theatre? Being part of the core team that has been trying to create a community in Greece from the ground up, I have become a firm believer that it has the power to make or break Improv as it grows, both for me and as a whole.

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Around the World: “WHY I QUIT PERFORMING” by Davide Arcuri

A few months ago I had a long conversation with Davide, about how different we can experience improv, when we are on stage, and when we are in a workshop room. The discussion was very intriguing, and Davide told me a story, why he quit performing improv. I asked him to write it down and let me translate and publish it on this blog, for Polish improvisers. And that was the first idea of Around the World series. And I’m really glad, that Davide wrote that text for me. When you are in Milan, Italy, go to see his Teatribu, to see how amazing, emotional, and phisical Italian improvisers are.

 

WHY I QUIT PERFORMING

Davide Arcuri

 

It’s been a couple of years since I quitted doing improv shows. I’ve been improvising for 15 years and I had several crises, as in every long and solid story, and then I came back stronger than ever on my steps. But this time, this crisis, was different. It was longer and it was relieving. I feel better now.

There are many reasons why I’m not performing anymore, but I can easily sum it up in one sentence: I’m not having fun anymore.

I obviously wondered about this lack of enthusiasm, and I thought that when you do something a lot, even if it’s wonderful as improv is, and, most of all, when a huge passion becomes your job, enthusiasm has to slow down a little.
But in my teaching path I had doubts, crisis, pain, difficulties, but never a fall or a willing to quit. So what’s happening?

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You’re not what you do.

– You have one minute to introduce yourself. The other person doesn’t care where you work, what schools you’ve graduated, but what kind of a person are you, and what you can offer him. / marketing conference

Improv is usually outiside of the comfort zone. Not only you’re in a spotlight, in front of people, who judge you. Even harder is that they don’t judge Julia Capuletti, Snow White or Marilyn Monroe. You cannot hide behind any story, any director, any script. It’s just you. And the audience reads you. It can be scary.

Ok, but you’re doing it. You’re improvising. You’ve come a long way with your inner critic, through all the bad jokes, weird looks of your family, bacause instead of doing someting serious, you’re fooling around.

You become more open, you get the punchlines. You are funny, you can talk to anyone. At the parties you are in the center of attention. Oral exams are easy, even when you don’t know much. You can make it. When you go with the flow, everything is easy, even the mean lady at the post office cannot do you any harm, when you release the tension with a nice joke.  You like yourself. You tell people, that you do improv, comedy. They nod their heads saying “That explains it all.”

Well, it doesn’t.

Improv doesn’t define, who you are.

Who you are, defines improv, that you do.

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Improv practice # 4 – what do you have to say?

“Think, who should you be to have the right to speak to the people from stage?” – I’ve read in a magazine, lying on the beach, during my non-improv-vacations. I sighed heavily, because what kind of vacation is this, when the idea came to my blanket and I now is sending me kisses.

This sentence was recalled by the actress, in an interview. She heard it from the professor, while studying in acting school. And that is the first question I would like you to think about.

I warn you. In this text there’ll be more questions than answers. And it’s your job to answer. To yourself.

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