Let us tell you about Bimpo’s Dirty Little Secrets.
Improvisation has always been eyed with suspicion by more classically trained actors. After all, improvisation is a fundamental skill every actor must have to maintain that suspension of disbelief despite any unforeseen situation onstage. It is used to build character, and in so doing, it allows actors to more fully (and convincingly) inhabit roles in a way that makes it look organic and effortless. But to create an entire evening out of it seems a bit thin, and the lack of a script, or plot, from which they would derive their motivation from – the thought fills most actors with dread.
But improv as an art form has a unique dynamic with its audience that conventional theatre can’t accommodate. Improv is theatre by conversation, not exposition. It allows the actors to communicate directly with their audience and draw them into the performance in a way that enriches the performance. Through prompts that inform situations acted out in short games and scenes. It’s a movement that has been steadily gaining ground in the local scene through the establishment not just of actual improv performance groups, but also the conduct of classes outside of academic programs available to any who would want to give it a try.
Bimpo is one such group, and have been instrumental in making improv shows more accessible by democratizing “play” in theatre to those who want to perform, and those who just want to be part of the fun. They advocate creating a safe space where people of all sizes, shapes, and persuasions can freely express themselves. For their first offering in 2020 (and right in time for this year’s Valentine’s Day weekend) they have teamed up with Fringe MNL and The Yuchengco Museum to bring us “Dirty Little Secrets” last February 15, 2020.
I had the good fortune to sit in the audience during this performance. Prior to the show, cast members had the audience write down song lyrics, locations (associated with some deep, dark secret), and a secret the person was comfortable to share anonymously with the rest of the audience. These were used as prompts throughout the night which had the effect of making the entire room feel as if we’re all under a singular conspiratorial spell. It made it easy for the audience to settle into the shared emotional headspace, and allowed even the most guarded person smile and join in the game. It is the natural, morbid, fascination with scandal that gets filtered through the lens of lighthearted games and comedic sketches that grab your attention and causes you to immediately engage in a way that is genuine and organic. The introduction of the element of secrets from the audience as prompts that inform and motivate the myriad of characters makes them a part of, not just spectators to, the show. It is a truly refreshing change of pace.
And therein lies the draw of improvisational theatre for a lot of different people: It redefines how audiences are supposed to interact with the performers in the space. It changes how audiences participate. At the core of these performances, it is less about building a polished performance, it is more about cultivating trust. Trust between your fellow actors, and trust between you and the audience. It is not about plot, or concealing what is, in favor of what should be. It is about truth – And if the effort, if the strings show, it doesn’t matter… Besides, maybe that can be OUR dirty little secret.
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