Improvising with Avinash Verma
Updated: Jan 18
Avinash is someone who I have known since July 2010. That's exactly when the both of us met for the first time at an Improv Workshop that was conducted by Adam Dow. The venue was Zenzi Mills in Lower Parel, Mumbai. For the next 4 years, I would find so much camaraderie in Avinash that I would feel disappointed if his presence for any Improv activity wasn't around. I found him incomparably funny more for his struggles in trying to express thoughts in the Improv he did. Though I have moved to Bangalore, my respect for him for his continuous pursuit of Improv is unmoved.
I got the chance to ask him a few questions of where has Improv taken him since 2015
Q1. How has the journey with Improv been so far, Avinash?
A: It’s been all good with a lot of challenges.
Q2. You are primarily an Improviser from Mumbai but what are some of the places that Improv has taken you travelling in India and even the rest of the world?
A: I have travelled to Banglore, Pune, Lonavala, Kerala, Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad in India. I have traveled to Seattle and the cities around - Bellingham and Bellevue internationally with regards to Improv.
Q3. Tell us, in all your travels, have you come across Improv in an unlikely place? In other words, which place did you end up seeing Improv being practiced that surprised you?
A: A brief session of Improv at the promenade of Nariman point is what surprised me the most. I think you (Nasir) were part of this session too.
Q4. I believe in the saying that 'Life is about the choices you make.' What are some of the choices you ended up making that took you to where you are with Improv today?
A: There are a whole lot of moments I can think of - Binge watching ‘Who’s line is it anyway?’, taking Adam Dow’s 2 day improv workshop on that fateful day of July 2010, commuting 4 hours through heavy rain just to see an ensemble practice and be around them - multiple times at that, are some of the things that immediately strike me from back in the day. I am also proud of the conscious choice I made of taking up and practicing Improv full time. I have spent a considerable amount of time listening to Improv podcasts and reading Improv books. There was a time when I wasn't on stage for nearly 3 years. Improv STILL never left me.
There are also a lot of Improv playgrounds I was a part of. Apart from these, I was really thrilled to have started ICM Next Gen (Improv Comedy Mumbai's beginners team of improvisers) along with you (Nasir). This was my first tryst with coaching new students in Improv.
I have also designed ‘Improv in a Treteau’ and to have worked with the cast of this production. I had joined Nasir in Banglore along with Ankit Challa to perform Improv which was altogether new for me in a different city back then. I then started the Improv Jam in Mumbai with Kaneez Surka and Rahul Subramaniam.
Then came the big one - going to Seattle and doing shows in and around the city. This was absolutely incredible. I then started a 2-man improv show with Ankit Challa. Meeting international improvisers like Roemer Lievaart (Netherlands), Omar Galvan (Argentina), Randy Dixon & Ryan Stiles (US), spending time listening to their conversations, attending their workshops and practicing with them was just too good to be true through the last few years.
The list will actually go on and my mind will keep yes and-ing me. I have learnt that every moment of my connection with Improv has taken me to the next one and I am thankful for the choice of sticking to it no matter what.
Q5. From all the different groups you have worked with in your travels, what would you say is an emerging or established style of Improv here in India?
A: Improv is India is 9 yrs young. The understanding is so limited that most performers don’t follow either of the most popular styles - The Del Close 'Chicago' style or Keith Johnstone's form of Improv. Most want to make it funny but still they don’t understand the way the humor is crafted in the Chicago style of Improv. People who think about Keith’s style don’t have the patience to follow his style. Performers want to be super funny super quick but to be honest, I haven’t even seen them try the “Whose line’s“ style either from the fear that it would look too a blatant attempt at plagiarism.
Improvisers in India say that audiences don’t understand Improv yet. I feel, as performers, we have not submerged ourselves enough into Improv yet, to even think of pointing fingers at the audience. To explore it without the expectation of fame and popularity is where the truth of Improv lies. A lot of us performers don’t understand it. We only nod in approval when an international improviser shares the the same thing above through their experience with an open, trained and ego-less mind. That understanding sticks around when the international improviser plays and performs with us. But as soon as they are gone we go back to our old ways.
Q7. If you had the chance to really go to any Indian city and create an Improv community, which city would you love to do that in and why?
A: Nowhere. Communities become cults and cults become fanatics. I don’t think I have the ability of creating a community that won’t create chaos.
Q8. Is there a personal Improv goal you have?
A: I want to use Improv for my acting work to make it effortless, real and well timed. I want to use it in life to make sure that I care about people. I want to experience what happens when you submerge yourself in Improv so much - that you don’t care about money, popularity and fame. I want to improvise in a way where I don’t feel insecure, scared, doubtful or any other bullshit that takes me away from the moment. I want to improvise and just be completely present.
Avinash is a professional actor, Improv comedian and Improv instructor. He has performed 500 + improv and scripted theatre stage shows, 3 TV shows, 6 TVCs, 3 Short films and 1 independent film. Taken workshop in every major city in India training kids, teens, students and corporates.
This interview has been curated and edited by Nasir Engineer. Nasir is the Artistic Director of ICB (www.ICBangalore.com)