BERLIN – Jacob Banigan has performed his solo improv-show on Sunday, March 17th, 2013 at the Kreuzberger Ratibortheater. The grim title “Game of Death”, coupled with the announcement of tarot cards, created the anticipation of a mystic and ominous performance – which could not be farther from the truth for this show.
Jacob Banigan, born in Canada and now for quite some time active at the Theater im Bahnhof Graz, performs improv for 20 years and participated in the first IMPRO already. In Berlin, he played frequently alongside Jim Libby as part of the Rocket Sugar Factory.
By the time the alarm clock sounded, death stepped on stage
At the beginning, Jacob took his time to explain the complex mechanics of his solo format. The source of inspiration for this evening was a French tarot card game. The audience drew cards, was asked for associations and picked about 10 terms for the tarot symbols “stars” and “epistle”. A third card was selected through stage assistant Felipe Ortiz (PICNIC, Bogota) and remained invisible for Jacob at first. An additional card bore the number 16, which caused a kitchen timer to be set to 16 minutes. By the time it sounded, death appeared on stage and took one character with him. The number 16 also served to determine the century and by using a globe, the plot was placed in the heartland of China.
DJ Hunnicutt (CRUMBS, Winnipeg) sounded traditional Chinese flute music, which Jacob used within his following scene. Thus a flute playing master was asked by the young Ping if he could become an artist instead of a butcher, like his tradition-conscious family wished. An exemplary hero’s journey began in which a myriad of characters emerged. Banigan utilized the entire stage area for this performance to place each character at a different position and to keep them further distinguishable through distinct facial expressions, gestures and language. The reappearance of each fictitious person on the same spot made recognition easier for the audience – and probably for the actor, too. The approximately 20 characters were played highly distinctively and affectionately, so that the people in attendance were able to immerse in them. Repeated sounds of delight spoke for themselves in this respect.
The story was advanced with staggering ease by Banigan; after 16 minutes Ping’s father died dramatically on stage, which unsettled the balance of his village. The chiming of a bell by an audience member revealed the content of the third tarot card – the mouse – that contained the solution to the story. Subsequently, the plot lines were merged coherently and logically.
Flawless interaction between musician, lighting engineer and actor
DJ Hunnicutt’s influence on the story through his choice of fitting and encouraging music should not go unmentioned – a perfect team play of musician and actor. Likewise the lighting engineer succeeded in making the vast Chinese sceneries, bamboo forests, daytimes and moods of the village come alive intensively. Thus standing ovations erupted already at the end of the first part.
The presentation resembled a magic trick
The second half kicked off with two additional tarot cards and their respective inspirations; the symbols “the bird” and “the girl” were drawn. After that Felipe Ortiz’ video camera recorded a fragmentary and slightly cryptical conversation of Jacob Banigan live. Jacob then filled in the missing half of the film, which was displayed on screen by a beamer. The resulting emotional dialogue featured an ornithologist and father as well as his daughter. The first performance suddenly gained meaning for the audience and connected to the second half incredibly well in many passages; video and actor harmonized skillfully. I saw various spectators following the performance in disbelief with mouth agape. This presentation resembled a magic trick, because many in the audience will have caught themselves speculating as to how it worked.
With every ringing of the bell a character changed
The next scene: two further tarot cards were drawn – “the ring” and “the mountain”. In addition to common associations from the audience, a true story of a woman, who was trapped for two hours in a turned off cable car, emerged. This event constituted the central theme of the following scenes.
An additional country was chosen – Honduras, which set Spanish as language. With every ringing of the bell by an audience member Jacob changed his persona. A wonderful scene with vivid characters, using the fake language gibberish, developed in the process; it displayed that great stories can work regardless of words. Banigan impressed with his body language and expressions, which transcended speech. At the same time he was able to create an exciting, witty and clear story that was complex.
Video: Stephan Holzapfel-Sander
An endless applause, standing ovations, trampling of feet and bravos attested how much the audience was carried away by this performance. In conclusion, Jacob found affectionate words for the festival as well as for the people in attendance supporting the art of improv. This show will stay in memory – it wasn’t ominous and mystic, but brilliant and magic.
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