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Preview: Shanghai Improv Festival With Charna Halpern
By Nov 6, 2015 Nightlife
Comedy theatre innovator, Charna Halpern is in town this weekend for this big Shanghai Improv Festival. You might not know her, but you probably know some of her students: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, Stephen Colbert, and many more. With her partner Del Close, she co-founded the iO theater in Chicago, created the long-form improv format "The Harold", and co-wrote Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation.

The festival, which started yesterday, is organized by local improv teams Zmack and the People's Republic of Comedy. So there's five shows, each with three performances, by improv teams from Shanghai, Suzhou, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines happening over three days with Charna giving a presentation on the Harold format on Sunday. I went last night for a look, and it's worth checking out.

In one of the performances, the team was given the word "chicken". So they told chicken stories, then acted out three seemingly unrelated storylines: a young chicken wrangler with big dreams, a chicken farmer selling her land to a commercial developer, and a headless boy trying to find a job. The scenes were really pretty hilarious, with separate storylines and ideas merging into one coherent conclusion.

This kind of long-form improv is different from short-form games and skits that you might see on a show like Whose Line Is It Anyway.

As Charna puts it, "Our job is not always to make you laugh, it is to make you think, to make you feel... In the '80s I started long-form improvisation and I was lucky if I could get eight people in the audience. And now people are doing this all over the world."

The next Shanghai Improv Festival shows happen Friday and Saturday, all in English, at the Shanghai Comedy Club in Masse on Jinxian Lu. The cover is 100rmb per show, and it comes with a drink. All profits from the event go to The Library Project, a charity organization that builds libraries and reading rooms in rural areas in China and other parts of Asia. It's a good one. You can find a full schedule of tonight's line up on Zmack's website. Tonight's two shows start at 8pm and 10pm.

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