I am a Spanish guy who has been working and living abroad using English for the last four years. I am in a point where I only use my mother tongue during my weekly catch up with my parents. I consume all my media, I communicate with my Canadian partner and I write in English. Sure, I still have a funny accent, and I do a poor job enunciating (even in Spanish); but I rarely feel that using English is hindering my interactions.
I moved to Copenhagen three years ago and, for the last two, I have been part of the first (and only) English Improv Theatre. It was founded by a Danish actor who discovered the healing power of improv doing long form with Chicago IO.
This theatre is one of the few English-speaking entertainment choices in the city. We have a handful of house teams where (without having the data at hand) 50% are Danish, 35% English -native speakers and 15% the rest. It makes sense. Danes, on average, have a very high level of English; and there are the most common in the cities.
In the classes, you have a different picture. True, when I graduated from the last level, we were 5 English-native, 5 Danes and 5 from the rest (Spain, Portugal…). On the other hand, most first levels only count with a few Danes and one-two native speaker; being the rest (12-15) the biggest group. Is there any way to support them so we have a more diverse cast?
Most of our teachers are the first generations of improvisers from the theatre. The founder also have amazing connections, so we have a variety of very big improv names coming both to our festival and to teach intensives (most of them from North America, from theatres like Second City or IO). We are lucky enough to have our new artistic director coming from second city LA! So I am not discussing the quality of the lessons at all.
We focus on long-form improv, teaching the various parts of a Harold so we can come together with our own format in the end. There is very little short form training on the curriculum, but we use some of the days on the early levels. When I did it, the focus was on creating grounded characters on relatable scenes. The comedy will come on its own.
On my classes, I remember having some people stepping out of a game because they felt they didn’t feel comfortable with the pace of the game and being on the spot. When playing Three Things or Give me seven things, some of my classmates asked to step aside. I also remember, after a show, when a performer apologised for not being fast enough on our invocation opening. He did an amazing job, but I could tell it is something he feels conscious about. “Since I had a stroke, I can’t react that fast”, I remember he saying.
Personally, I realised very early that any game involving singing or rhyming… I just can’t do it well enough in English. Which is understandable, but limiting in many short-form shows. I used to write rap songs in Spanish when I was 12. Now, I am ashamed cause I need 5 seconds to come with a rhyme to “English”.
After this training, it is pretty obvious that most of our nights are Harold-esque. We mainly have long-form, but we are pushing for more short-form nights now with our new artistic director. There are many changes that are just about to come so I will focus on how were the shows during my studies.
The cast is mainly the first generation of improvisers. Half of them are Danish, the other half from an anglophone country, and two or three from the rest of Europe.
We see a lot of slow-paced shows with grounded characters. The focus on the scene is on the relationship.