• Julien Bertrand

Why I love twoprov

After years of doing improv, my passion has turned to finding amazing stage partners to develop two-person improvised shows, “twoprov”.

I discovered TJ & Dave a few years ago thanks to my friend Curt Mabry, founder of Zmack Shanghai. Since then I’ve come to realise how much I had always loved the core work of an improvised show, whatever its format – that is, what happens between two actors on stage. You don’t need more people. Actually, how many times have I heard “if you’re going to walk on that 2-person scene, make sure it supports what’s going on, not adding anything else”?

Finding that perfect stage partner is no easy task, and for me has come through trials and a little bit of luck. All the members of Zmack - the troupe I am part of - are great scene partners. But for a fully developed show, I needed someone that would just ‘click’. It wasn’t until Charna Halpern herself came to Shanghai to be our festival’s godmother and deliver a weekend-long workshop that I met Aaron Garcia. Aaron had been part of the Shanghai theatre community for a while, and I had seen him in a few plays, but hadn’t been too impressed by the directors’ choices they had made for him. For me, he hadn’t been given an opportunity to shine as an actor onstage. So when Curt told me he was so excited to join Charna’s workshop, I was dubious and surprised.

By the end of the workshop, I had made a new friend and found a scene partner. I can’t really explain it, but looking back I guess it was his unshakeable commitment to the scene, his poise, his pace, the way he really looked at me, that made the difference, and matched my expectations. Charna made us promise we would do a twoprov show together, although he had planned to relocate to LA within the next 45 days. Still, empowered by the Lady, we managed to do two shows, under the name “No Titles”. The first one was decent; it held water. Still, a friend came to me after it and asked, “Who wrote the show?” I smiled with all my heart, “No-one, it was improvised.” To which she said, bizarrely, “Oh, I know it’s improvised, but who wrote it?”

Our second show was a lot more successful and a step closer to the high standards I have had for myself. We were both more relaxed. The crowd knew more, somehow, about who we were, and the venue was better (good old Masse Bar, now defunct). If you look carefully enough, you’ll find the show somewhere online.

In October 2016, I finally started organising regular evenings of “twoprov”, and building a style for the small improv community of Shanghai. I asked experienced improvisers to pair up and try to perform short acts, using whatever format they wanted. I myself performed with different people, including Curt himself as “Sound Blue” (we even took it to TJ and Dave’s stage at the iO!). I also performed with the adorable Charmika.

I was still trying to find a partner to ‘click’ with since Aaron had gone to LA. I remembered how crazy good an opening scene with Curt and Anthony was back when we did a long form we called the ‘Lola’. No one dared interrupt that opening scene since it was jus rolling and was a marvel to watch. They had a great connection. Now Anthony is a 21-year-old Australian friend, full of bravado, energy, and fun. Curt and Anthony also performed in the twoprov evenings as “The Nerds” a few times, and Anthony partnered up with Brian in “Happy to be here” as well. I had not realised how Anthony, with his passion for the stage, was so committed and how much he had improved since he’d signed up for the first class. It was then only natural I should ask him to try twoprov with me. And we just clicked. Anthony is a marvellous performer, humble and dedicated. After a few practices, we wrote down our goals and principles for our show, and started with a 15 to 20 min set. It felt good. We pushed it to 20-25 minutes. One night, the light person hesitated when blacking us out and we performed almost 45 minutes. We were set. “The Nerves”, as we call ourselves, was working. We immediately wanted to be better, more professional, and push ourselves to do great stage work. We hired a photographer, and we taped our shows (sadly we missed one) and practice sessions. We try to do one show a month as part of a twoprov evening, but we are looking into having an entire evening to ourselves (50 minutes or so). We just bought body microphones to record our shows with an even better quality and we want to set up a short Q&A video so that people get to know us better. You can find more about us here.

Also, if you are in the UK this summer (2018) and want to know more about twoprov, sign up for my workshop! I’ll be delivering it in Belfast as part of the first ever Belfast Improv Festival, directed by my good friend Paul Mone. “The Nerves” will also be performing there. You can find details here.


(I did my very first improv scene when I was 11 and it was awful – mainly because my teacher didn’t believe in it, and just “let us do it” for a few minutes and went, “See ? That was awful!”)

#Improv #twoprov #JulienBertrand #AnthonyGates #Zmack #Shanghai

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