NEW FEATURE: 25 years of quality and diversity – Sven Lanser on IMPRO Amsterdam

Improv festivals are a brilliant way to shake up your improv. You get to have loads of fun while meeting minds from all over the world instead of just your own back yard. I spoke to Sven Lanser, artistic director of IMPRO Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

IMPRO Amsterdam


 Where? Compagnietheater in the old city centre of Amsterdam.

When? The last week of January each year. So January 25th – February 1st 2020.

Workshops? 40.

Shows? 29, including two open stage shows and two two-day workshops that lead to a show.

 Rachel: IMPRO Amsterdam is 25 years old this year! Tell us about it.

Sven: It’s the biggest impro festival in Europe, and one of the oldest. It’s a place for people to learn, share, perform and have fun.

Rachel: How does it work?

Sven: We offer workshops during the day and shows in the evening. We have an ensemble cast of 19 people that play the shows on the main stage. This main cast  is composed of five handpicked groups. Every weeknight we have one special show and one mixed cast show. The special is a 45 minute show by one of the groups, a format they specialise in. In the mixed cast show we bring together 6 to 10 people of the main cast to perform a show. Some shows are formats developed specially for IMPRO Amsterdam. Others are formats brought by mixed cast members, or formats we are familiar with in ourselves. 

After these two main shows we have two simultaneous late night shows. These shows were selected from 60+ submissions we receive each year. These late night slots offer opportunities for experimental, culturally specific and just great shows to be performed.

Rachel: What does IMPRO Amsterdam aim to achieve?

Sven: We aim to touch and inspire performers, workshop participants and audience. Impro is more than just comedy. Just like scripted theatre it can be heartwarming, shocking and/or revealing. For the audience, we want to have the best shows possible. For the workshop participants, we want to teach and inspire them on their learning journey. For the performing improvisers, we want to inspire them to go off the beaten track. 

For everyone, we want IMPRO Amsterdam to be the place where all walks of life meet. People from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, all age groups and all experience levels. The world is a very diverse place and we want to reflect that in our festival. Every year we have performers from all over the world. This year the majority of our international ensemble cast is female.

Rachel:    What kinds of workshops can participants expect at your festival?

Sven: Every year we offer a wide variety of workshops. We have renowned improvisers teaching from their decades of experience. We also have upcoming talents offering new perspectives. We have people with a background in clowning, dancing or television sharing great insights. We look for the best mix of teachers and workshops. You can learn about physical theatre, narrative, musical etc. If it’s improv, there’s a good chance you can find it here. 

Rachel: And how about the shows?

Sven: We try to be as broad as possible. Patti Stiles once said she enjoys our festival because every show serves a different way of impro, and that’s exactly what we strive for. So we have comedy, narrative driven impro, musicals, silent impro. If it exists we have it, we have had it, or we are going to have it.

Rachel:  What’s the best thing about your festival?

Sven: One special thing about IMPRO Amsterdam is the beautiful theatre. The Compagnietheater in the old city centre was built as a church in the 18th century. All our shows take place here and 90% of our workshops. This makes it the place to be even if you’re not in a workshop or watching a show. You can really feel the impro atmosphere. For one week it’s the hub where impro lovers meet.

Rachel: How do you manage the boring admin and organisation stuff?

Sven: We have a great organising team and a bunch of volunteers helping us out. Everyone has their talent, so some people actually like the boring stuff! And of course we help each other out if things are too much. And since we know why we do it, it’s easier to keep our motivation.

Rachel: What’s challenging about running an improv festival?

Sven: Improv is booming in Europe and festivals have been popping up like crazy the last few years. There is an international festival almost every weekend somewhere in one of Europe’s many beautiful cities. So our challenge is to stay relevant to performers, workshop participants and audience. That’s why every year we are focused on improving what we do. We can’t become lazy. Luckily, we have this great team, and of course Amsterdam itself attracts people as well.  

Rachel: How do you advertise the festival?

Sven: We use a lot of social media like Facebook, because our focus is international and that’s how improvisers stay in contact. Of course we also send out a newsletter to international improvisers. But most important is word of mouth. Quality sells itself and as long as we work hard, visitors and volunteers will keep telling others to come and visit.

Rachel: What do you get out of running an improv festival?

Sven: The kick of making so many people happy. The atmosphere in the theatre when 300 people are enjoying a show fills my heart with joy and pride.

Rachel: What can improvisers get at your improv festival that they can’t get anywhere else?

Sven: Tough question. What to say without sounding arrogant…? I think it’s the all-over experience. Organising a festival 25 years in a row means we’re doing something right. It has allowed us to perfect things instead of winging it and I think you can feel it. IMPRO Amsterdam is a diverse and well-organised festival where you can focus on the thing you love: impro!


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