On top of Mount Olymprov

Performing Spoilin Games with Gary Schwarz (Veronica Stivala centre). Photo Stelios Choustoulakis.jpg

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.

Mt Olymprov 2018-16.jpg

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.

Gary Schwartz in action

Gary Schwartz in action

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!

All photos by Stelios Choustoulakis 

All photos by Stelios Choustoulakis 



It's all Chinese!

I drift like a cloud,
Across these venerable eastern lands,
A journey of unfathomable distances,
An endless scroll of experiences...
Lady Zhejiang here we must part,
For the next province awaits my embrace.
Sad wanderer, once you conquer the East,
Where do you go?
— Tom Carter, China: Portrait of a People

I was warned that it would be very difficult to communicate in China since I don't speak Chinese. From buying train tickets to asking for vegetarian food, 'you're going to suffer', I was told. So I went armed with pre-translated sentences about not eating meat and arrived at train stations many hours in advance, prepared to get lost and make mistakes.

Chinese is reputedly one of the hardest languages to learn for speakers, like me, of Indo-European languages, such as English. Chinese is a tone language, meaning that the meaning of the word changes depending on its tone, something alien to us. And, of course, there's the whole new alphabet. That said, for speakers of similar languages it is not that hard, nor is the grammar too complicated - there are no cases, nor obligatory plurals and tenses. But using words from the romance, germanic and semitic languages I do know, would not get me anywhere here as it would elsewhere.

Yet despite this barrier, I managed to get by, often thanks to very creative gesturing and miming, but also thanks to translating apps, which my friends obviously didn't have just a few years back. In pharmacies, taxis, restaurants, both linguistic parties often whipped out their phones and so we managed (though not always!) to communicate our thoughts.

In such situations one becomes ever more grateful for translated menus and signs, yet if the Chinese will forgive me - for I'm sure my app also told them quite a lot of rubbish too - here are some translations that I could not help but giggle at:

Thankfully, the water was clean!

Thankfully, the water was clean!