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6th Manila Improv Festival: Schedules, Collaborations, and More!

6th Manila Improv Festival: Schedules, Collaborations, and More!

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Created by the Silly People’s Improv Theater (SPIT), the Manila Improv Festival (MIF) is returning for its 6th year this September, with more local and international acts than ever before.

After 4 years since its last run, it’s back with 14 shows, 12 workshops, and 70 acts from over 15 countries (Seoul, Slovakila, Australia, Australia, Israel, India, Canada, Chicago, Tokyo, Taipei, and more) and 300 improvisers. It is currently one of Asia’s biggest festivals.

Improvisational theater, or improv, is a form of theater where scenes and stories and songs are created on the spot, completely unscripted, and inspired by audience suggestions. The result is one-of-a-kind shows that are built from spontaneity and collaboration.

The first run of MIF started in 2012, with only 4 local and 4 international acts staged at the Quantum Cafe. This year, over 20 improv groups from the Philippines are participating in the festival. Many if not all of the groups have their roots with Third World Improv (TWI), the first school in the country dedicated to teaching the art and craft of improvisational theater, also founded by SPIT in 2015. TWI is now home to over 500 students, which continues to grow on a regular basis.

This year, the festival will be staged at multiple venues inside Ayala Malls Circuit Makati from September 7 to 10.

The theme for 2023 is Brave the New, “…because everything is new”, says Festival director Dingdong Rosales. “It’s a new venue. There are unusual spaces for performances. For instance, Stage A is a cinema converted into a theater. Because we used a cinema, it faces its own challenges. The acoustics are different, it has no stage, no backstage, no dressing area, so we have to build everything from scratch.”

“Another space that we’re using is an empty unit inside the mall. It was designed to be a store and we’re turning it into a theater space. Another space for performance we’re using is the MSO (Manila Symphony Orchestra) rehearsal hall at the end of this building. It’s actually a nice space but in the middle of the stage is their very prized possession piano that we cannot move. Sabi ni Maestro, ‘Bahay niya ito, kayo mag-adjust.’ So because we’re improv, we will be able to build around it. We will find a way to make it work.”

This year’s festival is also more collaborative than ever, with people from different countries working together on one set. Co-festival producer Aih Mendoza shares that the pandemic fostered even more collaboration with new aspiring local practitioners and practitioners across other countries. 

“We didn’t know if we could improvise anymore. But lo and behold, during that lockdown, it was actually improv that kept us all together because we were doing it online. Even if we were stuck in our rooms for 2 years, we could pretend for a while that we were elsewhere– we were in Jupiter, we were at the beach, we were at the mall because of improv.” 

“This 6th Manila Improv Festival is so special because it’s the one where we can come back,” she adds. “I think we can all agree, as theater practitioners especially, the first time back is so amazing. It’s a labor of love.”

Ang Boypren Kong Puti, a collaboration between Australia and the Philippines and The Oracle of Delphi, a collaboration between the Philippines, India, Singapore, and Vietnam, both happening on September 7, are only some of the international collaborations that audiences can expect from the festival.

Rosales says that some of the performers only met online during the pandemic. The festival will just be the first or second time they’ll be performing together in front of a live audience.

Mendoza says that they are doing this because they want to honor the art form and tell the world that the Philippines is an improv world stage, a theater world stage. “Hindi lang siya sa Chicago or sa Canada, pero dito rin siya.”

Were there challenges when it came to collaborating with international improvisers? Mendoza shares, “Yes of course, our cultural difference will come in, but actually in improv, we choose to celebrate it and see it as an opportunity to not just learn from each other, but actually mas maganda pa iyung output kasi nag-mix iyung mga ideas.”

She shares an anecdote from working with an improviser from India. “Sobrang different iyung art style nila and iyung humor nila, and our approach is instead of resisting that, we look at it as a gift, and say, “Ano kaya iyung magiging surprise dito?” I think that is what’s so great about improv and that’s why we say Brave the New because literally we have that creative courage to collaborate with anyone from the world.”

Have audiences been able to respond well to international improvisers? Rosales says, ”Yes, in fact in 2019, the group from Spain performed in Spanish. We encouraged the group from France to perform in French, and somehow, nagkakaintindihan naman kami. (laughs) We always encourage them to speak in their own language.” 

“The improv community for those who are familiar, ang fuel niya talaga is openness in both heart and mind,” says Mendoza. “Whatever new thing is there, we’ll try to find a way to connect to it. It’s actually very interesting and it’s also a very big treat for our audiences because you’re watching acts from Italy from Slovakia and you’re like “Ganito pala iyung jokes nila. Ang ganda niya because it’s so authentic and spontaneous.” 

“On the spot siya, so you really get to see something unscripted and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s how Koreans make jokes, or that’s the humor of Australians, and it’s so pure.” 

“And more than comedy, improv really is about sharing something together and creating something together,” adds Rosales. “It’s more about feeling each other and creating stories.” 

They also mention that one of the criteria for the festival was encouraging the performers to give formats and improv games that are new to them. “They had to come up with something just for the festival or something that’s exploratory, never before seen to follow the theme of Brave the New,” Mendoza says.

Rosales further adds that this year’s festival expands to even more expressions of improv performance art. “It’s multimedia now, so there’s not just theater, there will be improvised musicals, improvised music, improvised dance, and improvised short films. There’s even going to be a show who’s using chatGPT in their act.”

You can find the festival schedule in the photo below. You can buy tickets from Ticket2Me.

Manila Improv Festival

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Founder and Managing Director of TheaterFansManila.com. Thinks about the performing arts scene 2/3 of the day, everyday. A firm believer in the Filipino artist.