“Barrio” (Neighbourhood) when an improv form takes over real life

Three years ago, I had the chance to play one of my favourite improv forms ever. “Barrio” (the Spanish word for the neighbourhood) was put together by David Fajardo, from the Valencian improv group SUBIT! and director and organizer of Valencia Improv Festival. It was a form bound to improvise in real places. A bunch of improvisers were scattered into different locations: a couple of flats, a bar, a parking lot and even the streets. Those places were considered different stages of a circuit. The audience was gathered in a place and, depending on how many they were; it got split into groups. The audience decides the topic, and then the different groups starts the circuit starting in different stages. The fun begins.

While the audience members arrive, the improvisers are waiting in the designated “stages” waiting, warming up, mind-melting, etc. The guide warns them via WhatsApp. “Get ready; we’re coming” giving away a hint about the topic. Then the improvisers start to act right away so when the people gets there the scene’s already going on. They are intruders, “invisible” to the improvisers eyes. When the audience is settled, the guide shouts “freeze!” and pauses the scene going on before giving the improvisers a word related to the topic to use as an inspiration.

When you’re improvising in an actual flat you don’t have to make an effort to keep it grounded and natural, you don’t have to make object work. Does your character want a coffee? Stand up and fix one for you. Oh! doing a scene while the smell of coffee is wrapping it all is just amazing. The audience is also delighted by the peeping and giggling until the scene reaches an end, with some cues from the guide, and they’re ready to move into the next location.

When the scene takes place in the street or another public space, the vibes are different since you’re acting not only for an audience but for whoever goes by wondering what the hell is happening being in the middle of what Augusto Boal called “invisible theatre”. Also playing couple-related scenes in the street can catch a lot of attention. What the audience didn’t know is that, from the beginning, a couple of improvisers were planned to be among them all along and they were bound to start a scene while transitioning from one location to another.

When all the audience groups had finished going through all the locations, all the improvisers gather together in the starting point for the usual clap-taking and bowing. If you’re a festival organizer, you cannot fail with this form that it is also an experience for the attendants. All the pictures from this post are from when this form was put up in the Valencia Improv Festival back in 2017 (credit for the pictures to David Fajardo and the festival itself) with a lot of success.

This form became a popular thing to do in following Spanish festivals and gatherings like the ones in Madrid or Vila d’Onda. It was a nice way to get together improvisers from all the country to play again with each other, showing to everybody that real life and improv are intertwined. Whatever interaction we can observe anytime, anywhere is just unadulterated and pure improv.

What are your thoughts on this form? Would you like to try it?

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