High quality, consistency and play are our favourite things here at Interactive Theatre International. As a company, we take the quality of our shows very seriously and love to deliver the same high standard of product every time. That’s why every year, at least once, the company’s Artistic Director and visionary, Alison Pollard-Mansergh, runs improvisation, performance and character workshops with all our performers in both Australia and the UK.
This month, for the whole of May, London has been workshop central! Everyone has been working hard behind the scenes as Ali runs workshops with the performers, keeping our shows to the theatrical equivalent of 1000 thread count genuine Egyptian cotton bed sheets 😉
We should also mention here (very quickly so their heads don’t get too big) that ITI has been extremely lucky to have top-shelf performers join us over the years. These are the performers that make each of our shows exceptional, and many of the performers have cross-over and stakes in multiple shows – so they remain deeply enthusiastic and caring towards the performances – both their own, and others’.
Now we are at the end of the month, the workshops are coming to an end, and Ali sat down for a few moments with ITI’s Caitlin Page to discuss the month’s activities, the workshops themselves, the performers, and her favourite part of directing. If you have ever wondered what these kinds of workshops look like and how a director might facilitate them, welcome. This is the interview for you!
C: Hi Ali! Thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat with me. I know you are back in the UK all the way from Australia to hold some workshops with all the performers in the company (what a huge task)… so how have the workshops been going so far? What shows have you been working with?
A: Hi Caitlin. It’s been great fun! It is such a joy to work with all the performers in our company. They are incredibly talented and professional individuals who really enjoy working in our shows. This time we have been working with the casts of ‘The Wedding Reception’ (soon to be called ‘Confetti & Chaos’), ‘Faulty Towers The Dining Experience’, the new corporate show ‘Faulty Towers A One Night Stand’, as well as the brand new ‘Pamela’s Palace’. All of them have been going really well and the performers have been doing some great work.
C: That sounds great! How often do you try to do workshops like this in the UK? And what is your main goal with them?
A: The company runs workshops once or twice a year to tweak parts of the script, teach new parts that have been created, share ideas between performers, and generally enjoy being creative together as a team – like bonding. It’s one way we ensure the quality of our shows stays high, but it’s also a time when we clarify things and answer questions for performers, and a chance for me to really show them my appreciation for their part in the company.
A: Well, I can say the creative energy in the room is always genuinely awe-inspiring. We achieve so much because each individual has so much to give. It gets better every year and I absolutely love being in the space with them all. I think everyone becomes more creative when they’re around each other.
C: What’s it like having all the performers in the same space? Do they learn a lot from each other or is it competitive?
A: They absolutely learn from each other! There is always something new to learn, and the combined experience of all our performers together in the same room is several hundred years! This year, we’ve also had Andy Foreman over from Australia – he’s been a Manuel for 21 years. That’s been really fun and he has spent a lot of time working with the performers who play Manuel, showing them great comedy business that he has discovered over his time performing the character.
C: That sounds like fun! Without giving too much away, what are some of the tools – activities, games, mantras, and the like – that you and Andy use to help performers find spaces for improvisation within the shows?
A: We often spend time working on ways to engage the audience in a way that opens the door for improvisation. This is key to our style of theatre, because we are playing for truth and we want the audience to really feel that they are in the situation at hand. We definitely don’t want to be in the faces of the audience all the time. That can become very overwhelming for them. So what we aim for is making our guests feel comfortable enough to ‘play’ with the characters and this is what we really practice in rehearsals. For example, at our Faulty Towers The Dining Experience rehearsals we had all the Basil performers sitting at a table as guests and all the Manuel characters were ‘waiting’ on them silently, allowing space for the guests to open a conversation with Manuel. It’s harder than you think for an actor to be silent but it really opens the floor up for audiences to take the lead and engage on their terms.
C: That sounds like hard work for the actors! What about a favourite moment from the trip so far? Does anything stand out?
A: Many, many moments, but it was especially hilarious watching performers improvise as we developed some of the characters a little more in ‘Confetti & Chaos’. The performers in that show are brilliant, and we have been getting some lovely things out of the work. I especially like it when we hit on something truthful – it gives me goosebumps! I think this is the stuff that the audiences will really respond to: truth and humour. That’s what we aim for in all our shows.
C: Wow! That sounds very powerful. Thank you so much for talking with me, Ali. It sounds like some great work is being done in our workshops. I can’t wait to have my own goosebumps watching our shows re-energised!
That’s it from us, dear reader. Just a reminder – if you are hoping to come along to any of our upcoming shows and have your own goosebumps experience, you can find upcoming details for all our shows and tours on our website here.
Until next time 😉