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A Sight into Impro Around the Globe

One of the most engaging parts of the Global Improvisation Initiative (GII) Symposium is the amount of diversity we have among the presenters. We have presenters who have found their love of Impro by applying it to conflict resolution, to business, to performance, and/or to political and social issues, and we have presenters flying in from every corner of the world, eager and ready to share their experience and connection to Impro from their own cultures. This week, we'd like to spotlight two of our incredible foreign presenters, Hervé Charton and Gunter Losel.

Hervé Charton(in photo above) is a French theater artist and actor, who also directs, writes and teaches. Among many other things, he co-founded the LACSE in Lyon where improvisation is used to deal with political and social issues, in places such as prisons, high schools, reception centers for asylum seekers, etc. Hervé has been elevated to the level of improv specialist in L’Hexagone, for defending his dissertation at the Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris 3 on Alain Knapp and Theatrical free-improvisation, making improv a more open, academic conversation in France.

Gunter Lösel is a Director of Performative Practice at the Zurich University of the Arts as well as the Artistic Director of Improtheater Bremen in Germany. He has published several books on improvisational theatre and a PhD dissertation on the performativity of improvisation: Das Spiel mit dem Chaos – Performativität und Systemcharakter des Improvisationstheaters (2013), Bielefeld: transcript-Verlag (Gunter in photo on right).

- If someone were to introduce you, what parts of your career would you like them to highlight?

Hervé: I'd like them to highlight my career isn't the one part type. I've been doing a career at the university, completing a PhD. I've been a stage director and author for most of my life, and since a few years back I'm working mostly as an actor. I've been teaching acting, but also mathematics and computer sciences. Now I'm doing a lot of music, and I don't know where that will end.

Gunter: I have been playing Improvisation for more than 20 years. I’ve been part of the German Theatresports National Team at the World Championship in Germany 2006. I am an artistic director of the Improtheater Bremen and have written several books and a PhD Thesis on improvisational theatre.

- What is the most memorable moment in your career?

Hervé: I think the one moment that got really into my skin and gave me the momentum to do what I've been doing ever since was during a class session with Lionel Parlier. I asked him to work on "automatic speech" (as in "automatic writing")-somehow a very free form of theatrical improvisation. After a couple of preliminary exercises, he set up a clock and told me: "Ok now you can go for seven minutes". It seemed to me like an eternity! As I was performing, jumping from one theme to another, letting my mind flow through free association, embodying a bunch of different characters, the other students were laughing and laughing... At some point Lionel told me to stop: it had been twenty minutes already, and this was just a workshop! But then I had the clear feeling that you could achieve something through free improvisation.

Gunter: When my first book “Theatre Without Intention” (Theater ohne Absicht) was published in 2004!

- What is the best advice you have ever received?

Hervé: Put your attention outside of yourself (on your partner, on the space) and you'll find there whatever you have to do.

Gunter: It is useless to twitch at the olive. It doesn’t grow any faster.

- How do you incorporate the skills you have gained through improvisation to your daily life?

Hervé: By getting in trouble. I guess I always feel free to try anything…

Gunter: By talking to strangers.

- What are your favorite rituals, warm-ups, or exercises in your work?

Hervé: I would often start my day doing breathing and stretching exercises, such as Tai-chi or Yoga. Then when my body is relaxed and open, I start adding the sound and working with words, trying to avoid any meaning, just releasing the flow of the mind. This way I'm good to start working.

As for the exercises I like to make people practice in workshops, I'll give you two of my favorites.

One is called "Kinesthetic response on a line" and comes from the Viewpoints practice. You get five people or so in a rehearsal space, and you place them with their back touching the same wall. In front of them is a line. That's where they will evolve during the exercise. They can walk, stop, change direction on the line, jump, go on the floor. That's it. The trick is that they have to do one of those actions when and only when something occurs around them that makes them do it. It's quite a simple exercise about listening, and being moved by others' actions.

The other one consists of making two students go on stage. You give each on them one sentence (e.g. "Stay with me" and "I have to go") which they can use as many times as they want, but they can't say anything else. From there, see what happens: will they build something together, be altered by each other, creatively use the constraint?

Gunter: Convergence. Convergence is a game where one person brings a word, any word, to mind and declares, “One!” Another person brings their own word to mind and announces, “Two!” Those two players then face each other, make eye contact, and count “One, two, three…” before simultaneously saying their word aloud. Having heard those two words, all players then silently seek a third word that combines, bridges, or encompasses those two. The first to come up with one possibility shouts “One!,” the next shouts “Two!” and those two use the same count-out-loud ritual to see if their words match. Eventually, the group converges on the same word, and one round is done.

Herve Charton

- How do you make your work accessible to audiences (non-improvisational or an international or inexperienced audience)?

Hervé: My group and I recently had to work with teenage prisoners, or with asylum seekers who were not speaking French. In both cases, very different for that matter, we dealt with it by trying to know them and what would gain their interest, by presenting very simple and yet compelling stories they could identify with, and by being both steady and flexible in the way we were working. I guess the idea is to know what people would willingly do or see, and take them a little further.

Gunter: Books. I also play, give workshops and teach in actor training at the University of the Arts in Zurich

- What aspect of your work scares you the most and how do you deal with that?

Hervé: How will I make a living out of that? That's the scariest aspect of the work. You know, it all depends so much on politics and luck. And I still don't really know how to deal with that in a long term manner.

Gunter: Emotions and cliches. How do I deal with it? Trying to work with a group for a long time and see, what is behind the surface.

For more information on our two spotlight presenters of this week, or to register for the Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium, go to

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