The Permanence Of An Impermanent Art – Improv Corner Special – “When?”

A new year means there are lots of new and exciting shows, music, albums, comedy and much around the corner and we have an exciting month for you! In true Phoenix Remix tradition we are chatting to lots of different acts all about what they have in store for 2022. To celebrate the new year we have something truly special for you, improviser David Escobedo has returned to The Phoenix Remix to discuss the Permanence Of An Impermanent Art. Over the next few weeks David will be discussing different areas of this topic.

“To give some form of permanence to an otherwise impermanent thing.”

Bobby Anderson

What happens when we document something?

Bobby Anderson is succinct in his response to the effect of documenting something. It’s almost a super power to turn something ephemeral into something that may inspire future generations or students – granting a bit of immortality. 

When I used to live in West Hollywood, I did a show with Miles Stroth of the Pack Theatre in Hollywood.  Prior to the show, he smoked a cigarette outside and we chatted. He liked to do this with all the guests on his podcast.  This was such a monumental moment for me – doing a set with Miles Stroth.  According to his biography at the Pack theatre website:

“Miles was a member of the seminal improv team The Family, whose members included Adam Mckay, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Neil Flynn and Ali Farahnakian. The Family, directed by Del Close, created and introduced into the improv world The Deconstruction and The Movie forms. Miles had the privilege of working with the late Del Close for eight years.”

Taking advantage of such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I asked him for some advice. He shared with me that one of his regrets was that after years and years of working in improv, he didn’t have a physical thing to point back to. Some improvisers wrote their scenes down as sketches, some wrote books, and he felt like he didn’t have a breadth of tangible work that accurately reflected the years he has spent in improv. 

Ben Macpherson also relates to the permanency of a temporary object by saying:

“By documenting something you make it reusable and extend the life of it beyond the moment….”

Anisha Pucadyil looks at the power of documentation from a different point of view – consuming rather than producing. Anisha says:

Having begun improv online I have had the access of documenting improv classes, scenes, panel discussions that have informed my craft.”

My observation is that one perspective is about changing temporary-into-the-permanent and the second perspective is on consuming the now-permanent. This widens the impact of a singular improv show. It means others, who may not have the privilege of living in the same city, can still see some shows. It is my humble opinion, that this differing response could also speak to the different concentration of improv where Ben and Anisha live.  I understand that both Ben and Bobby live in the UK which has a burgeoning improv scene, and Anisha is from India where improv is still new. Whereas Ben and Bobby have access to improv workshops, classes and shows Anisha has a much more limited access, and found benefit in being able to access online (documented) improv. 

Now, reasonably, this is not just documentation but also distribution. At the same time, I feel that documentation allows for distribution. The same technology that allows you to document the process of improv, is the first steps in the process for distributing it – especially across the world. Since improv is such a new artform, much of its history was oral. This means you had to be within a certain sphere of influence in order to get depth, quality and origin of improv training or improv history.  For example, people who had the privilege of being in Chicago in the 1950’s had a greater access to the development of improv then people who grew up in Quezon City in the Philippines.

It’s here that I want to point out, that documentation in this context is not just the recording of shows.  Documentation of improv also means notes about classes, posters for shows, blog articles, memes, etc. Recording of the shows is just a small part of documenting a whole art form. For others to have access to improv theories, history and more there has to be an ability for them to interface with it – even if they are distanced by location or period in time.

“All performance and theatre is bound by location in space and time, tied to limits that it cannot completely escape.”

Kershaw, B. & Nicholson, H. (2011)


No photo description available. Bobby Anderson co-runs the Sheffield Improv Jam and Stürike Comedy with Alex Keen. Their improv searches for truths and meaning in the absurd.

No description available. Anisha based in London, follows her passion for playback and improv by collaborating with various in person and online teams like  True heart and citylamps among others.

No description available. Ben Macpherson is a Nottingham based improviser and writer, with a decade of experience making spontaneous comedy. Ben is also part of Missimp and offers improv dramaturgy.

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