Jason Perez (EIIF): 'I've always been a firm believer in the power of improv'
- Brian Donaldson
- 10 February 2020
As the second Edinburgh International Improv Festival approaches, its organisers are keen to make one thing clear: it's high time kids got involved
At the end of February, Edinburgh venues Assembly Roxy and Scottish Storytelling Centre will be buzzing with the sounds and sights of people making it all up as they go along. One of the key aspects to this year's Edinburgh International Improv Festival is getting more kids involved in the improv game. To that end, organisers have once again teamed up with Scottish charity Children 1st to improve the opportunities for younger people to see and take part in improv.
'One of the things that I've always been a firm believer in is the power of improv,' says Jason Perez, the festival's co-founder and artistic director. 'It's an artform that truly teaches all of the aspects that you need to know to be successful in life, whether it's in business or socially or for your own vanity. It teaches you how to work with others, and teaches you good listening, critical thinking and imagination: it's such a strong tool and I want to see kids doing more of this.'
For Children 1st's part, the festival is an ideal fit with their own ethos. 'We love innovative ideas that help to give children in Scotland the best possible start in life,' says Gary Dewar, Children 1st Edinburgh service manager. 'Being able to offer free improv skills workshops to some of the schools we work with here in Edinburgh is a great opportunity. We're hoping these will help children express their thoughts and feelings, build their confidence and their ability to form connections. All of which can improve a child's self-esteem and their resilience. The free session from Showstoppers offers children the chance to enjoy a show and see how the skills they've learned can be put to use. It gives them access to a fun activity they might not otherwise get the chance to take part in.'
Among the highlights of the festival this year are top US performers Will Hines, Heather Anne Campbell, Rebecca Drysdale and Billy Merritt (all of whom will be running workshops), while the gala evening at Assembly Roxy (Thu 27 Feb) is headlined by Showstoppers who have been picking up awards and putting out the sold-out signs since 2008. Plus, there are appearances from improv groups across the UK such as Couch and The Clap (both from Glasgow), Coventry Improv, I Heard Pillow (born in Iceland, now based in Edinburgh), Shetland's The Imposters, and London's The Committee.
But all the while, organisers will be keeping an eye on how all this will draw in younger audiences and get the next generation making it all up on the spot. 'Unlike ballet or sports or musical theatre, there's no cost to improv,' insists Perez. 'The only thing you ever truly need is two chairs and people on stage doing whatever they want. I truly think that it's one of the most accessible artforms that exists. One of the reasons we paired with Children 1st is that there are a lot of kids out there who aren't given the opportunity to go into things like the arts because it costs too much money for them to see it or be a part of it. With improv, you don't need to put mum and dad into debt to see it or do it.'
Edinburgh International Improv Festival, Assembly Roxy and Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, Thu 27 Feb–Sun 1 Mar.