Sporty Stiles

22 June 2012 | 12:34 pm | Aleksia Barron

Sometimes the best theatre happens in the moment, according to Impro Melbourne’s TheatreSports director, Patti Stiles. She chats to Aleksia Barron on the eve of the TheatreSports Grand Final.

If anyone knows the ins and outs of Theatresports, it's Patti Stiles. She trained with the Theatresports creator, Keith Johnstone, at Canada's Loose Moose Theatre, where she honed her improvisation skills. After moving to Australia, she got to know the team at Impro Melbourne and is now serving as the Director for the 2012 Theatresports season. Having run a series of successful shows throughout May and June, she's now busy preparing for the Theatresports Grand Final – one of Australia's most prestigious improvisation events and a breeding ground for Australia's most lauded comedians and actors.

Stiles is used to explaining Theatresports to people unfamiliar with the them. The Canadian-born performer is constantly encountering people who have never heard of the theatrical competition that she loves. “It's a competition format, so we have teams that compete in improvisation games and scenes for points.” Stiles shares. So what is it about Theatresports that keeps her loving the artform? Stiles is quick to credit the freshness of the format. “You can come to every single show and you will see a different show,” she explains. “Although you see the same structure in the show, each week it's a different combination of players doing a different combination of games, and because it's improvised, it's always different. You may never have seen a Theatresports match, and you can come in off the street and have a great evening.” She particularly enjoys the fact that Impro Melbourne's Theatresports seasons have their regulars who attend every show, as well as people who come along to check out events as a one-off experience. “The evening stands alone as wonderful entertainment. We're very user-friendly.”

Of course, even though Theatresports events are entirely improvised, that doesn't stop audiences from suspecting that some scripted work is in the mix. “It's actually quite funny because one of the reasons we take suggestions from the audience is to try to prove that it's improvised,” sighs Stiles. “But if you get a suggestion and do an amazing scene, the audience assumes that you had someone yell it out! When it works really well, the audience doesn't believe it's improvised.” Still, Stiles has learned to take such scepticism for the hidden praise that it really is. “One of the greatest compliments that you can get is when the audience members say, 'That was scripted, right?'”

The trick to Theatresports, according to Stiles, lies in a quick wit and a selfless nature as a performer. A good improviser isn't thinking about their own performance – they're thinking about that of their team, says Stiles. “We're thinking, 'What's going to inspire our partner? What's going to delight them? What's a character they've never played, or a scene they've never been in?'” In exciting each other, Theatresports performers can really take flight.  “We're trying to keep ourselves on our toes – we're trying to whip each other into that spontaneous moment,” says Stiles. “That's when the creativity really blossoms, and we think, 'Wow, that happened tonight, in this moment. That happened here, and will never happen again.' The audience sees it, feels it, witnesses it – and that's when improvisation just blows my mind.”

TheatreSports will run every Sunday in June at 7:30pm in the The Space Prahran.

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