Amsterdam Impro Festival – Past Products, Picture Perfect, and Powerful Play

zur deutschen Versionby Thomas Jäkel and macro:

AMSTERDAM – On this Friday (Jan 30th, 2015) the Amsterdam improv festival was focused on their anniversary and inadvertently revealed how improv has developed over time. At the same time, as a day filled with diversity, it also offered new and experimental formats.

Old Times Revived at the Festival Anniversary Show

This being the twentieth year of the improv festival simply called for an anniversary show! And so IMPRO Amsterdam’s organizers invited the festival’s founder André Bessling to host the birthday show.

Amsterdam Festival Anniversary Show - Bierdeckel
André Bessling shows the coaster with notes for the first improv festival

Because theatresports very much dominated the Amsterdam improv scene during the early 1990s, the festival was initially strongly influenced by this format as well. In this tradition, André Bessling started the show with an audience warm up – a first for these past evening shows – and had the 250 members of the audience “speak in one voice.” An interesting exercise after which he reminisced about the festival’s beginnings, for instance, how the first ideas for it developed in a bar, and were noted down on a coaster. He showed the coaster and then had the story replayed.

The show progressed and the audience learned how improv was played differently in other countries, or which rather strange games had been presented at the festival at some time: Barefooted ensemble players had to participate in the “mousetrap” game in which they have to improvise scenes while walking blindfolded through active mousetraps strewn across the stage. Audience reactions were vivid every time a toe came close to a trap but there is no point to discussing the content of the scene.

Amsterdam Festival Anniversary Show - Mausefalle

And that was precisely the problem with this show. The players seemed largely tense and uninspired by suggestions. The MC was not of much help and there seemed to be a lack of connection. Only in moments in which they could free themselves of the limiting format players found back to their brilliance and playfulness so frequently seen these last days.

Clearly, improv theatre has grown and developed, and this anniversary show made clear: it’s good that it did. Discussions during these past festival days never revolved around games and their variations but rather focused on acting, content, and communication with the audience. And thus this show also demonstrated how IMPRO Amsterdam has developed and moved forward. All the best, and keep it going!

Click – when pictures say a thousand words

„Click“ was a world premiere at the IMPRO Amsterdam Festival. Inbal Lori (Israel) and Tim Orr (USA) played scenes based on photos sent to them by audience members. But before the audience was to select pictures from among the 30 images, Inbal and Tim made everyone take an oath. No one was to hold them responsible for any misreadings or misinterpretations of the photographs.

Click - Inbal Lori and Tim Orr

And then Click! The first image appeared on the screen, showing some fried deliciousness of FEBO, a Dutch food automat, and off they went. Both went straight into the scenes, smooth and quick. They varied between strong physical movements, quick verbal exchanges, all the way to songs and atmospheric play. Scenes were generally short, and here and there one wished for them to go on for longer, especially since these two know how to touch the hearts of the audience.
On a visual level, the images added a lot. At times they were kept as backdrops, at other times they were quickly dimmed once the scene started. It did not become quite clear what the ideas behind these choices were but it seems very worthwhile to keep experimenting. Thanks to these two free form improv experts, Click was an improvised visual delight.

Click - Inbal Lori and Tim Orr
Heartrending. Click – Inbal Lori and Tim Orr

Half scripted and powerfully played by Nachtgasten

A somewhat different approach to improv theatre was introduced by Nachtgasten from the Netherlands: An author scripts the beginning of a story, and the information is partially shared with players. Tonight’s author – Koen Wouterse – read the first part of his story to the audience and the three players Oren Schrijver, Jette Carolijn van den Berg and Niels Croiset who were thus far uninformed of the content. Then, each actor was told further details about his*her character while the two other actors were out of earshot.

Additional rules, which Nachgasten had self-imposed, were shared before the briefing. For instance, no step was to be repeated, which meant that if an actor entered the scene sad then s*he was not to enter another scene with the same emotion. Or another rule stated that all audience reactions, or attempts to help through interjecting calls, were to be ignored so that the play remains solely contained on stage.


The story of this night was a serious drama, in which each character’s failure was inevitable. The part of the story known to all: There are two brothers, one had been missing in action for five years, the other by now married to his brother’s long time girlfriend. The details known only in part by the actors included that the now-wife is pregnant but unhappy in her marriage because she is still in love with the other brother who has recently turned up. A third brother, who was just killed in action, was in fact killed by the oldest brother who ran amok among children and will be imprisoned as soon as anyone finds out. Needless to say that performing the harshness of such extreme situations is a giant task.

The realization was very powerful. Each of the three characters truthfully embodied their brokenness immediately. Played mainly in two-person scenes, short scenes involving all characters quickly resolved back into two player situations until in the finale all three were present. They made good use of space and set; the distance between characters mirrored their emotional connection. The chaos and the horror of events were palpable in all the details. The benefit of the actors not having to focus on setting up the story allowed them to heighten their acting intensity to a level rarely seen even in the most skilled improvisers. Hats off!


Thomas Jäkel

Gründungsmitglied und Redakteur von, Gründer und Improspieler beim Theater ohne Probe, Leiter der Freien Studentenbühne Eberswalde, Mitorganisator des Berliner Impro Marathon und Anhänger eines gelassenen und tiefsinnigen Improvisationstheaters. Webseite:
Thomas Jäkel
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