Amidst the impressive ruins of the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus, a group of improvisors finished off each others sentences, created their own epic stories and made up songs never heard before and never to be heard again at the Mount Olymprov International Improv Comedy Festival.
Improv festivals are fast becoming popular. Apart from the obvious, that is, learning new skills and getting to work with workshop leaders from the world over, the festivals have become a sort of special microcosm where old acquaintances are renewed, friendships rekindled and new pals made, all in the space of a few days.
Mount Olymprov, held in Athens, Greece, between 5 and 9 June was no different. Staying in the same hostel, having breakfast together, doing workshops together and then watching or performing in shows for four consecutive days brings people close together, especially so when it's improv you're doing. There is something particularly special about this discipline, which relies so much on participants being open, listening to and supporting one another. Without any of these three, it's not good improv.
Of course, a fantastic location doesn't hurt and being able to have breakfast with views of the Acropolis, pop into the Parthenon, walk around Europe's oldest capital and hop onto a train to one of the many splendiferous Greek Islands is surpassed by little else when it comes to travel attractions.
The festival saw a wide variety of workshops led by the likes of Charna Halpern, Lee White, Nicky Byrne, Feña Ortalli and Gary Schwartz, who has kept alive the wonderful Spoilin Games. These games were developed by Viola Spoilin in the 1920s as an easily grasped system of theatre training that could cross the cultural and ethnic barriers of the immigrant children with whom she worked. Unfortunately a lot of the workshops were often rather crowded, with up to 25 participants in at least two workshops I took part in and which greatly detracted from what could have been even far better events.
A plus of this festival was definitely how everything was within walking distance, from the workshop venues, to the hostel, and the performance venue. The organisers had also gone to through the trouble of sourcing eateries that would offer special rates for participants. Another treat was that there were special activities, such as a free walking tour, on offer each day for those who had free gaps in the day. Sadly I had already jam-packed my timetable too much to be able to go to these.
Hats off to the dedicated festival organisers for putting in so much hard work. It is no joke to organise a festival, as I am quickly learning, as I organise my first festival, to be held next year in my home island of Malta. Watch this space!