CoIL Series Interview #1: Amanda Farah

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I saw Amanda first in an improvisation show around 2003, when improv was first gaining ground in Mexico. I later had the fortune to meet her and work with her. We lost track of each other and, years later, ran into each other during a workshop. Since then, we have worked together several times in improv-related projects. She is the most experienced improviser currently attending the CoIL.

 

Ana: When and how did you start improvising?

Amanda: I started improvising about halfway through my degree because the degree coordinator, Luis Mario Moncada, invited Omar Argentino to give us a class. He said “we’re going to form a Mexican Improvisation League”, and that sentence created a spark in my head; I said “I want to be a part of that league, whatever that is”. I hadn’t the slightest idea what it was and that was how it started. It was a class of about 40 people, so there were a lot of us. It was a group that I hadn’t been with because of the strike[1], and I met them all there. The group already had problems: some of its members already disliked each other for certain reasons; some of them had already started performing professionally, some with other people; others hadn’t yet, and they already disliked each other. And I noticed that when we improvised or did the exercises that Omar Argentino set, they had to break through the issues that they had with each other, and that fascinated me. I was a complete outsider, and I always have been a bit outside, but I thought it was very interesting. I liked it a lot and I laughed… I had never laughed so much in a class. I remember not being able to continue a Shakespeare-style scene because we were all on our knees crying from laughing so much.

Ana: And why do you continue to improvise?

Amanda: I think because it still makes me laugh a lot and I think it is something I am truly fascinated by. I love to have something be so spontaneous, so surprising; and that it is so surprising in regards to all the ideas that appear out of nowhere. I think that is great. And also because of its capacity to bring people together; I also like that a lot. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I guess the stories created together bring people together; because stories that are told within a society, within a community, within an era – I’ve just finished reading The Power of Stories[2] – I think they have the power to bring people together because you’re all putting yourselves there.

Ana: So you are using improv for things beyond just making a show; like using it for group generation or as therapy?

Amanda: Yes. Like group generation and endless fun. I believe a show has different elements that are big obstacles in letting this highly spontaneous and fun thing happen. I much prefer to work it as a group inside than putting it on stage. I like it a lot on stage as well, because it has the element of the audience and of throwing yourself into the unknown. Last time I was on stage – it had been a long time since I last improvised – I was in Señorita Impro[3], and I had such a headache before… because I hadn’t trained with the other improvisers, because I hadn’t been told which games we’d be playing. I felt on the edge of a cliff and I was really scared. Once I got on stage and started, the headache went away. It disappeared. It was very impressive. But I was very apprehensive and highly stressed.

Ana: And what do you feel that improvisation gives to your personal life?

Amanda: Lots of fun, but also a place of exploration with regards to personal obstacles. I met a guy who does parkour who told me that parkour was an exercise in seeing where your limit is, and about finding where it is and pushing it; finding out where it is without breaking anything; it is about going very slowly. And I was telling a friend I was with – because the parkour guy was telling us both – “of course, in parkour doing this is easy because the limits are outside: the sidewalk, the thing you have to jump over, the forward or backward somersault… but in improv they are within; your obstacles are of a different nature”. I think the people who are able to find those obstacles, break them, and get themselves into a risky position again… I think those are the improvisers who are worth it. And I would like to be an improviser like that. I think that is why I don’t have a group: because I like those risks.

Ana: Why do you feel the laboratory is important for you? Why do you come?

Amanda: I come because I think you understand improv more like I understand it. I have tried finding someone with whom I can improvise like that. I think I could improvise with, for example, Omar Argentino. But Omar Argentino is never looking for someone to improvise with; he does it alone, and that has always impressed me. I admire him, but it also makes me wonder: “is it that there is no one with whom one can improvise so delicately, so interestingly, so… magically?”

Ana: What do you think should be improved in improv?

Amanda: For me, it should be more about finding that inner obstacle, and if you can do it with the audience – I mean do it honestly – I think the audience is grateful when you put yourself in trouble and you find solutions; and if you know how to find solutions well it is even better. But I do think that to be a good improviser, you also need to have a lot of scenic tools and I think there are lots of people who are not trained for the stage.

Ana: But what do you think we are great at when improvising?

Amanda: I think I am very impressed by all the proposals there are. I am impressed that there are so many formats when it is really just one thing. It doesn’t really go that far. I like seeing that there are so many formats, and that some of them are short or long, and that we are searching. I think that is great, it is endless, and that suddenly something really good might appear. One thing that Bruno Bert[4] said once was that there were many theatre groups upon leaving university and that became a hummus for one or two groups that would be the ones to stand out or to become great, but all those groups were the fertile ground, and I think there is a lot of fertile ground in Mexico. I am also very impressed by something Ricardo Esquerra[5] said: “I want improv to be part of our free time like any other genre; for people to see improv, and for there to be improv shows.” Because there was a back then when there were no improv shows, and after that, after the match and 10 years it proliferated, and now there is a genre of improvisation, and people generally know what it is. It did arrive in the precise moment and it spread, and that was amazing.

 

 

[1] In the years 1999-2000 there was a big student strike at the National University in Mexico. An outline of what happened can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_UNAM_strike

[2] by Horst Kornberger.

[3] Improv show with a format inspired by beauty pageants, directed by MariCarmen Núñez Utrilla : https://www.facebook.com/SenoritaIMPRO/ (in Spanish)

[4] Artistic Director of the International Street Theatre Festival in Zacatecas, Mexico.

[5] Mexican actor, improviser and director.

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