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Blog: Teatro Vivo on the balance between script and improv

Teatro Vivo’s The Hunters Grimm is currently in rehearsal for its run in Deptford. In our latest blog Michael Wagg tells us about the need to be an actor and a writer for this promenade performance.

Writing for Teatro Vivo is a bit like preparing for war. Not that I’ve ever prepared for a war but we’ve just finished a run of Mother Courage at Woolwich Arsenal, so forgive me. What I mean is that the actors, heading out into the field, need ammunition.

What I find most enjoyable is the balance between written script and improvisation which forms part of the frisson of a Teatro Vivo show.In writing for the company I’ve tried to stock the arsenal with words forboth, the scripted sections and the moments where improvisation will lead, trying to pop something up our sleeves for a legion of possible encounters. We ask the audience direct questions and use what is offered, and while we can’t control this any more than we can the weather, the script needs to have plenty of give. As for what the weather will offer – who knows?

Acting in the shows has been a help too, getting a front line view, knowing the thrill of heading off script and trying to find your way back. Mind you in development for The Hunters Grimm I found myself quivering under a table at one point, which isn’t perhaps the best place to listen out for lines that may be useful back at the desk, nor very war-like.

For The Hunters Grimm, currently rehearsing for its Depftord run, I was thinking about playing Wilhelm Grimm while writing scenes in which he would appear. But then a Teatro Vivo actor has to be a writer too. The actors generate a huge amount of material through improvisation, both in the rehearsal room and in meeting the audience in the thick of the story. New actors might also take over a rôle and so the baton is passed from one to another. What’s great is the ongoing collaboration, not only with director and site, but with the ghosts of characters.

“I take walks into literature.”Jacob Grimm

The brothers Grimm are obsessed with stories and driven to seek them out; much like Teatro Vivo are. So I think the challenge has been to try to infuse the audience with that same fascination and send them off into the world of the play – the real world and the imagined are one and the same – with intent. The Proposal that we’re in this together – actor, audience, place… weather! – and that we don’t quite know what will happen but do know that it will be different each time, is the joy of it. I hope I’ve helped to pack for the journey.

“The vibration of travelling is beneficial to me.”Wilhelm Grimm

It’s a promenade performance, on the move, and part of the writing of the framework is to look for reasons why we might need to move. This movementtakes time but story and momentum still need looking after, so the actor can use some ammo for this too, probably in less scripted form. We’ve looked to leave room for story to branch out, for encounters to breathe, and love the fact that the gaps are filled in later in unexpected ways. If you come to a Teatro Vivo show, you write it too.

What I love about this work is that it happens somewhere, with the real world going on around it, sometimes crashing into it, and the written script can suggest where that somewhere might be. There is great fun in writing, as I did for The Odyssey, ‘We arrive at the gates of Hades,’ and then watching Vivo make it happen. Add the casting of the audience – for The Hunters Grimm a gang of intrepid new story-hunters – and hopefully we have somewhere to start: a foothold.

But we won’t stay still for long. The words are a springboard from which to take a leap and, if the weather gods are smiling, a bit of a breeze to blow us on our way.

For more information visit www.teatrovivo.co.uk

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Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.