Enter the world of improvisation with Marie Argence

Hello Marie, can you introduce yourself in a few lines ?

Hello !

Marie, 28 years old (I’ve apparently come of age…!). I am from Marseilles, « expatriated » in Auvergne (in Puy-en-Velay in Haute-Loire) for work (and for the heart!).

I have been passionate about theater for a very long time. During my studies in Aix-en-Provence, I was president of the theater club of my school for two years: two great years during which with the members of the club we created many shows. These members are now mostly great friends with whom I know I can maintain a link through time.

Club Théâtre Sciences Po Aix 2013-2014 after the premiere of Musée Haut Musée Bas.

Once I graduated in 2017, I wanted to work in theaters, not as an actress but in the offices. After 2 experiences in this field, I preferred to leave the theater to the passion to continue acting without it being tainted by the worries of daily professional life.

Why are you so interested in theatrical improvisation ?

I first discovered improv during my first year in the drama club, when I was not yet president. The first time I did it, I was really scared!

Of a reserved nature at the time, I managed to break certain blocks and to gain confidence in myself thanks to improvisation.

After my studies, and depending on where I lived, I was always part of what is called an improvisation league. If you dig a little, you will see that there are some in almost every city in France.

Improv is a little known art that comes from Quebec. It’s a way of doing theater without having to learn a text. It’s being part of a league, of a troupe, and therefore of a family. It’s having friends of all ages and backgrounds. For me, going to see improv is going to see big kids on stage: doing improv theater is cultivating one’s universe, creativity, spontaneity, while playing with one’s team. A good improviser is one who plays with his teammates and not solo.

Le Mithe (Mouvement d’improvisation théâtrale de Marseille) – Improv Match 2018

Do you prefer improvised theater to written or already structured theater ? Why or why not ?

This question is very complex for me. It’s like asking if you like ketchup or mayo. Some people can easily decide, I answer « it depends on what I eat my dish with ».

The same goes for improv or classical theater, it depends on my period of life, my needs, I juggle between the two.

Currently I am part of an improvisation league and a classical theater company. Finally, after several years of doing nothing but improvisation, I felt like going back to classical theater, which I had abandoned after a laborious past experience.

Juggling between classical and improv is juggling between two worlds that each have their own codes, but that are complementary in my eyes, which is not the opinion of everyone! Improv and classical is a bit like the Capulets versus the Montagues. It’s a bit like the Capulets versus the Montagues. The classics will say that improv isn’t real theater; the impros will say that classical is for losers (to make it short).

When we do classical theater, we practice improvisation as a warm-up. Then there is all the work of a single character when preparing a play: pushing the character’s psychology to the limit, exploring it to the maximum. This may seem more boring than improv, which seems to bring non-stop novelty: think again! Performing a play is not redundant, because each performance is different (because of the energy of the audience, of the troupe, of yourself…).

Je vous ai comprises, by Cie La Tête Dans les Nuages, 2017

When you do improvisation, you become a Swiss Army knife. You explore multiple characters, some more easily than others. You meet yourself through improvisation, you surprise yourself! You are adaptable and you learn to listen to others. On the other hand, to get to know all our characters, we need a lot of time!

Therefore, for me, both are important and I can’t choose! They are complementary and meet different needs according to my life periods.

What are the most memorable experiences you’ve had in the theater ? (Improvisations or not).

Phew … there are a lot …

Some good and some not so good.

Those times when you come down from an improv scene and you say to yourself that you will never go on stage again…

Those times when you are surprised with your partners to build something magical !

I refuse to describe one in particular, because that would be choosing … and I am unable to choose one moment rather than another as it is each time intense and different.

La SLIP (Sympathique Ligue d’Improvisation Ponote) – Improv show 2020

How does theatrical improvisation work in France ?

Improv troupes are called « leagues ». In each city in France there is usually at least one. Each league has its own functioning, its own history.

Generally, matches are organized all over France by the leagues: they invite other leagues from other cities who then invite them in return. This makes it possible to meet everywhere in France and even in Europe !

When we talk about « improv games », we are talking about the most classic form of improv theater. Straight from Quebec, these games are inspired by field hockey games by the way they are dressed. The public is involved and votes at the end of each improv for the team of their choice.

Today, there are almost as many formats of improv as there are leagues: each league revisiting the ways of apprehending the matches, the « long form » shows … what not to get bored !

Le Mithe – Improv Match 2018

How do you define « live performance » ?

For me, it is the spectacle of the moment, the one that is unique. It’s what you see and feel when you go to a play, a music concert, a dance performance. Often it feels old-fashioned: young people are not always very fond of theater, for example. Yet, it is the oldest entertainment in the world: long before Netflix, the cinema and so on! When we go to see a live show, we are going to see something unique, something ephemeral: we see a creation in the moment, something that won’t exist anymore afterwards. Each performance is different because of the energy of the artists and the energy of the audience. This is what makes this art form so magical.

Rehearsal of The Trigger of Happiness, semi-performance by Ana Borralho and João Galante, 2017

What is an artist for you ? And your definition of art ?

Vast questions whose answer will be very subjective !

For me, an artist is someone who thirsts to understand, to question, to disturb, to make people dream, to express themselves.

He is a bit like a visionary, someone ahead of his time. He is also a big child who refuses to anchor himself with both feet in reality because it does not suit him.

He is also the one who is eager to share his art because it is the only way he has found to feel alive.

As for art, it is an integral part of the identity of a society: it comes from a particular space and time. For me art and culture are inseparable in the sense that there are as many forms of art as there are human societies. The art of dance, theater, painting, cooking, architecture, digital, mechanics, gardening … art is a witness of time, it is what remains of our passage on earth as human.

How does your work fit into this ?

I am a « Counsellor of popular education and youth », basically I am a state civil servant and most of my work consists of partnership work.

Improv helps me a lot: in a relational job where we sometimes have to deal with « acute meetingitis », improv helps me to lead meetings and training sessions. I have fun putting myself on stage: I play the role of a government official and adopt his or her posture, while trying as much as possible to make my interventions punchy, constructive, and connected to the other person. I try as much as possible not to fall into the pitfall of the « top-down »: and improv helps me enormously (unlike perhaps classical theater) because in improv, as in my work, it is a matter of « building together ».

How do you live the current period concerning your theatrical improvisation activities and your relation to culture ?

It’s difficult of course. My brain and my imagination are bored … So I immerse myself in other things to keep my intellectual curiosity alive …

What would you recommend to someone who would like to get into the world of theater improvisation ?

Don’t think too much about it if the curiosity and the desire are there. You have to go for it! Of course there will be times when it will seem insurmountable, but it will never really be: you have to be ready to do a little work on your ego though, that’s for sure.

From a practical point of view: the leagues are really all very different, do not hesitate to ask questions to several leagues if it is possible to know which one would suit you best. Some leagues are more accessible than others… don’t be surprised, it’s part of the way they all work.

Festival d’Aix en Impro 2018 with the Lipaix (Improvisation League of Aix en Provence)

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