Chilean Improv Comedy: Breaking Cultural Barriers

The guy with the purple mohawk, the red bowtie and the blindingly white retro sneakers made for an immediately curious scene when he took the stage at the Centro Mori theater. The eccentrically dressed character was the emcee of the Segundo Festival Internacional de Improvisación Teatral (Second International Festival of Improvisational Theater) and the event proved to be a spectacle that even someone with three months of experience in foreign Chilean customs could not have been prepared for.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén (click for more photos)

The purpose of the 12-day festival was to unite a variety of countries in the spirit of comedy, with each team of comedians consisting of two representatives from their country. Structured in the style of traditional stand-up comedy, each evening consisted of two comedic competitions. One particularly entertaining night boasted a competition between the United States and Chile, followed by one between Italy and Peru.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

The show began when spotlights suddenly illuminated a humble, three-person band in the corner behind a boxing ring which would serve as the stage. The emcee--the goofy, slightly excessive and entirely intriguing guy with the Mohawk--entered and began by introducing the Chilean team: two girls dressed like cut barbaric cave-women in ripped leopard-print dresses and painted skin. With incomprehensible grunting, they broke into a choreographed fight and dance routine before the American team took the stage. “Los gringos ordinarios” consisted of a stout girl wearing a formal red dress, a fire-engine-red wig and a sequined headband, and a solidly-built young man in white pajama pants, a wife-beater and a Davy Crockett-style hat.

The fight consisted of three improvisational acts, beginning with “banderas de emoción” (flags of emotion), in which a scene was played out across three invisible “panels of emotion” ranging from tristeza (sadness) to felicidad (happiness). As the comedians roamed about the stage, the manner in which they expressed their dialogue changed according to what panel they were in.

Act number two was based on the theme of professions, while the third and final act involved the enactment of a scene through constantly changing themes (e.g. horror movie to hospital TV series to Disney movie themes).

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

At the conclusion of each act the audience was asked to vote for which team performed the best. Though the competition was closely matched, the home team deservedly won each time, resulting in a 3-0 win for Chile.

As the emcee took the stage again to announce the next fight, the pair of Italian team members proclaimed their presence by dancing onto the stage to the Bee Gees' “Stayin' Alive.” One team member sported an afro wig, shirt and tie, white sunglasses with oversized frames, suspenders, and to top it all off, handcuffs attached to his belt loops.

As Peru's team entered the boxing ring in an equally energetic, yet somewhat less creative manner, one team member responded to the question, “What is your strategy against Italy tonight?” The answer: “We're going to put a lot of rhythm on them.” Indeed, much rhythm was put on both teams throughout the night. The competition between Peru and Italy proved to be a closer match than that of the United States versus Chile, this time consisting of five improvisational acts that at one point produced a 2-2 tie (meaning each team had been declared the winner of two acts each).

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

In a particularly memorable skit, a woman from the audience was called upon to be the victim of what can only be described as a nerve-wracking interrogation, which in turn served as the basis for a song based on her answers.

The teams questioned the audience member regarding her likes and dislikes about men in general, what she likes to do with her husband/boyfriend, and more innocently, her favorite food. After both teams serenaded (and danced with) her, it became evident that Italy had won the approval of the audience. Italy eventually defeated Peru 3-2.

All in all the evening turned out to be quite a success. The audience roared with laughter and cross-cultural language barriers were broken by the unifying strength of humor. Hosted by Chilean improvisational theater company Lospleimovil, the spectacle expects to return to Santiago next year. Information about the show can be found on the event's website at http://mundialimprochile.cl/.

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