The Improfessionals

February 8, 2008By Linda HealeyArchive

Improv à la Carte

Mark Jane and Clara McBride in improvisational mode. Photo: Tom Tollenaere

Paris has a number of popular improvisational theater groups, competitions and festivals, but only one troupe, the five-year-old Improfessionals, works in English.

Currently playing monthly at the Café de Paris, the Improfessionals’ “Impro a la Carte” show starts with short scenes, played out with gung-ho brio, that are chosen by the audience from a menu of forms with titles like “Three-headed expert,” “Gibberish game show,” “Death in a minute,” etc. The second half consists of an improvised long-form musical.

The very international Improfessionals players are Florian Bartsch (Germany), Mark Jane (England), Tim Lone (United States), Clara McBride (Canada), Caspar Schjelbred (Denmark) and Sarah Grimmer (New Zealand), accompanied by Tim Byrne (England) on the keyboard.

They are a pleasure to watch, whether it’s Florian Bartsch nailing a “Freeze Tag” tableau in one line, Mark Jane emotionally altering his fellow player with eloquent gibberish, Caspar Schjelbred’s spirited embrace of confusion in “Slide Show” or Clara McBride sitting upside-down on a chair in “Ceiling.” The players’ confident stage presence is built as much on skill and verve as on trust of both the other players and the principles of improv.

At a recent performance, the musical, entitled “Life Is a Show,” began in a graveyard and ended in the best comedic tradition with twin couples finding true love and the priest (Mark Jane in an Irish mood) reaching out to

the modern young woman (Sarah Grimmer). Grimmer, the troupe’s newest member, had a star turn in the “Move Your Body” song-and-dance number, and all the players contributed their skills to the smooth but complex storytelling.

One of the rewards of watching the Improfessionals is the way the individual players complement each other: Clara McBride’s full characterizations intermesh with Mark Jane’s broad comedy, Tim Lone’s technical grasp, Caspar Schjelbred’s dreamy romanticism, Florian Bartsch’s peppy panache and Sarah Grimmer’s well-placed one-liners. Tim Byrne ties it all together with melody, mood music and incidental sound effects.

Linda Healey

Café de Paris: 158, rue Oberkampf, 75011 Paris. Métro: Ménilmontant. Tickets sold at the door: €10. Reservation possible for dinner guests only: 01 43 57 34 67 (Café de Paris)

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