Barcelona Improv Festival 2018

Written by Ben Verhoeven February 10, 2019 0 comment

Last Novem­ber, I spent almost a week in Barcelona to par­tic­i­pate in the BIG IF inter­na­tion­al improv fes­ti­val there. Here’s my sto­ry of a week with two per­for­mances, three work­shops and lots of great con­ver­sa­tions with fel­low improvisers.

Werewolves, the improv show

The pri­ma­ry rea­son for going to BIG IF was per­form­ing Were­wolves, the improv show. A few months ear­li­er we applied and were lucky to be accept­ed to be part of their fes­ti­val. BIG IF is the fourth fes­ti­val in which this show is per­formed (the third in which I took part) and the great thing is that our cast is get­ting more and more used to each oth­er and becom­ing bet­ter at per­form­ing togeth­er. Since we are a Dutch-Bel­gian ensem­ble, many of us don’t per­form togeth­er very often and rehearsal oppor­tu­ni­ties for this show are lim­it­ed. I was there­fore hap­py that we took the whole after­noon before the show off to spend time togeth­er as the cast. Also tak­ing a lit­tle bit of time for a run-through, but also just get­ting to know each oth­er bet­ter. It seemed to have worked, because we had a great time on stage.

One of my per­son­al favourite moments of the show was in the begin­ning. I ini­ti­at­ed a scene in the bath house of the vil­lage as a dirty old sex­ist man. This char­ac­ter was then endowed by fel­low play­er Sophie to be the may­or of the vil­lage, instant­ly cre­at­ing a huge sta­tus dif­fer­ence and mak­ing this char­ac­ter impor­tant in the sto­ry. I had great fun try­ing to por­tray this vil­lain in a human way, with creepi­ness as a char­ac­ter trait. A char­ac­ter the audi­ence loves to hate?

You can rewatch the show here.


I took some real­ly inter­est­ing work­shops this week. Hap­py to say that I had fun with and got some­thing out of all three. There was “Mas­ter of cer­e­monies” by Ella Galt with some great exer­cis­es on how to find your own voice as the MC of a show. One inter­est­ing take-away from that work­shop was to indi­cate how an audi­ence should answer a ques­tion that you as the MC ask them (e.g. raise your hand if it’s the first time you’re vis­it­ing our the­atre). It makes it clear what you want from them, and the answer will come more efficiently.

Then I took “Here and now” with Dan Seyfried which is a great work­shop on being in the moment, inspired by the Meis­ner tech­nique. The cool thing here was the great con­nec­tion with some of my scene part­ners in this work­shop. The most mem­o­rable exer­cise — apart from the rep­e­ti­tion exer­cis­es — was about an emo­tion­al child­hood mem­o­ry. We all had to write down a real mem­o­ry. Then in a duo, address the oth­er play­er (who doesn’t ver­bal­ly react) as your child­hood self, with­out them know­ing the sto­ry. Such goose bumps with many of the memories.

The third work­shop was “Advanced short­form musi­cal” by Sacha Hoede­mak­er, which deserves its own lit­tle sec­tion here.

Advanced shortform musical

I didn’t real­ly know what to expect from this work­shop, but I love doing impro­vised long­form musi­cal (see Com­motie) and I felt like being chal­lenged so I took it. Sacha took us on a roller­coast­er to cre­ate our own musi­cal improv show that is struc­tured around sev­er­al short­form musi­cal games, some of which we invent­ed our­selves. We per­formed that show that same night on the main stage of the fes­ti­val. After a bumpy start with the open­ing song, the rest of the show just went by so smooth­ly and quick­ly. I was hap­py that the struc­ture was a help rather than an obsta­cle and that I was able to even squeeze out a few solo vers­es. The basic set­up of the show was to have an open­ing song with a pro­fes­sion as inspi­ra­tion (in our case “astrol­o­gist”). We then see a pro­tag­o­nist of this pro­fes­sion that has a dream (wish song) and an antag­o­nist that wants to destroy this dream (anti-wish song). After some musi­cal games we come to the con­fronta­tion between good and evil which is the cli­max. After that, we had a beau­ti­ful build up of poet­ic lines one at a time by each per­son which final­ly led to the res­o­lu­tion of the sto­ry in the final song. 

I’m adding a few frag­ments of me singing togeth­er with my friends Evan Schweitzer and Stephanie Hei­j­tel here, as well as plen­ty of oth­er tal­ent­ed peo­ple. You can rewatch the entire show here.

Thank you BIG IF 5 for a won­der­ful festival!