As part of the excitement for the show I am about to have with the Arab improviser Zaki Zikani, Teodora Tzankova and I set for a chat about improvisation, politics and playing with an enemy. I hope you will enjoy this transcript of our conversation and that it will inspire you to come see our show “Playing with the enemy” on November 15 in the Ratibor theater.
T: so Inbal…
I: yes… that’s me.
T: let’s do small talk after the interview is finished…
I: oh… ok…
T: how many years have you been doing this impro thing already?
I: since 2001
T: many years
I: should I quit?
T: no no, I think you are ok
T: you started in….?
I: Tel Aviv
T: and you learned it how?
I: by ourselves, kind of from the Keith Johnston book … internet was not SO accessible at the time and we were kind of isolated in the middle east
T: sounds terrible…
I: it had its good sides
I: yes, it was a process of autodidactic people, we were teaching ourselves the things we knew and I think it made us better actually
T: if you say so…
I: I just did
T: but back in the days it wasn’t your main job, was it?
I: no. back than I was doing a lot of acting and some writing and dubbing and also sometimes impro
T: so what made you think you should make it your main job?
I: well… circumstances I guess…
I: well after years of performing impro I finally had the courage to think I could actually teach it, so I published a course and it got full in 2 days, and then teaching turned to be a lot of fun.
T: did you think it won’t be fun?
I: I just didn’t think that the students and I will enjoy it so much
T: are you sure the students enjoyed it?
I: they kept coming back
T: I see…
I: also I started to participate in international festivals and the feedback was great and all this international influence made me, I feel, better and then I decided to take a little time off and travel for 7 months but those 7 months got so full of impro stuff all over Europe and I had so much fun that I thought- why…
T: why not make it my main job?
I: you think?
T: did you dream of another profession beside being a performer and an actress?
I: should I?
I: no… I am an actress since a very young age and being on stage is the biggest pleasure for me. there was never a question of “will I be an actress”, there was more a question of what kind and where.
I think it’s not a good idea to tell people NOT to do something, I think it’s better to show them other ways and options.
T: let’s talk about your current impro life
I: yes. let’s.
T: what is it with impro and cliches?
I: we need to create things fast and on the spot so cliches are very easy and useful to play with
T: yes but at the same time improvisers avoid touching political issues on stage.
I: and that’s a bit of a shame I think
T: is that why you are teaching your “playing politic” workshop this November?
I: that is true
I: I think we live in confusing times in which it’s hard to know what is right and wrong; what is respectful and disrespectful and what you can or can’t do on stage
T: tell me about it…
I: I am. so understandably improvisers try not to bring such issues to the stage. moreover, some places formed limitation on what is allowed and not allowed on their impro stages
T: you mean kind of like a censorship?
I: In a way to me it feels like censorship. I think it’s not a good idea to tell people NOT to do something, I think it’s better to show them other ways and options.
T: but censorship is a harsh word, you sure you wanna use it?
I: I will explain
T: do it
I: For me, as an actress with theater disciplines this could be a problem because for me the stage is a place of brutality, blood, tenderness, beauty but also ugliness…
I: as artists we have the possibility to evoke thoughts in people. And if one tries to avoid such issues or addresses such issues very “correctly” and politely the outcome is, as we say in Hebrew, “not milk and not meat”.
T: can you say it in Hebrew?
I: lo basar ve lo chalav
T: i didn’t understand a word
I: that’s weird…It means that it’s in a boring middle. And sometimes that’s the worst, no? when we are trying to be correct and polite the stage becomes sterile . I have big discussions with myself about what is offensive and what is not offensive. And I am not interested in having have those Don’ts and Dos as an artist.
T: so does that mean that if you feel like it you can go on stage and insult minorities and offend anybody who is not you?
I: no. because at the same time, and that is super important: I take responsibility for the things I am doing on stage. I play the cliches, but as the story goes further I find more depth and more aspects of my cliche character. that way I try to evoke people to think. if I am being impolite or not super PC (whatever that means..) I am doing that to tell a story, and I will not play only characters which are a Jewish white woman in their 40’s
T: your are in your forties?????
I: sssshhhhhhh!!!!! don’t tell anyone!!! I will play different characters if the story needs it, because this is my job: to create the best improvised theater piece I can at that moment. and in the workshop I am more that happy to explore this with other improvisers. I give them the courage and the allowance to do so and I make sure that they understand the responsibility that comes with it.
T: that sounds hard
I: this is not a workshop for lazy improvisers. Nor i’s it for improvisers who want to stay in an amateur level – which I totally understand. Some people want to do impro for the fun, and that’s great. for me it’s an art form, so my expectations from myself are different.
T: so bottom line the workshop is about:
I: how can we play anything and be anyone in order to tell a good story.
T: define good story
I: a good story is a story that can make the audience laugh, be touched, think. it tells us something about ourselves, life, society, people, love, hate, death …
the saddest thing for us is that we are practically neighbors and yet our only option to do a show together is on European ground
T: ok, got it. tell me now about this “playing with the enemy” show.
I: I am playing the show with Zaki Zikani who is an Arab improviser from the middle east. And we are both very charged politically, we are sad, concerned and bewildered by the absurdity of the situation in the middle east. And the saddest thing for us is that we are practically neighbors and yet our only option to do a show together is on European ground.
T: how different are you as an Israeli and an Arab?
I: I think we have a lot of similarities. half of my family comes from Baghdad.
T: where is the other half coming from?
I: Mashhad in Iran
T: you are kidding me
I: not right now, no. so, 2 generations ago my family was a Jewish family in an Arab country and when Zaki and I meet we totally see it. we have the same rhythm, humor, look…
T: doesn’t he have a huge beard?
I: except for the beard maybe….
T: but that sounds to me like a very serious show. is that a very serious show with all that political conflict and sadness?
I: thing is. Zaki and I don’t need to do much in order for the show to be political. we can choose to play giraffes, and it will still be political.
T: political giraffes
I: because us standing on stage together is already a political act.
T: so you are just standing there like two political giraffes? that’s the show?
I: ah man… that’s an awesome format actually… but no we play a lot of different scenes some of them are based on poems that were written during the Arab Spring revolution.
T: but what’s funny about it?
I: it’s funny because our platform is impro, and therefore it will ALWAYS be a comedy
T: thank god!
I: but a comedy can be deep, smart, sad and much more. and we want to enjoy all the richness of this genre. and I think that this is our main goal for the show.
T: what about propaganda?
I: what about it?
T: just answer the question
I: ok… I think that while doing a political show the trap is to try educating the audience. it is dangerous to go up on stage with too much agenda because there is a risk of doing propaganda for our own side.
T: and we are aiming for a funny comedy show.
I: so this isn’t a show that wishes to educate. it’s a show that want to make people feel and think. we have to be very careful about painting the reality in black and white. part of what art can do is to show shades, and complexity. We should criticize the mainstream, sure! we should totally be suspicious about the establishment and people in power, always! but we shouldn’t think that the truth is shining from our asses.
T: you said ass
I: I am sorry
T: So give me some tips- how can one play save with “enemies”?
I: what enemies?
T: just answer the question
I: I think that in the impro world there’s maybe some ego clashes but real enemies? basically it’s a very friendly and open minded community, no?
T: are you changing the subject right now?
I: ok, ok…. so for example if I would imagine a dream show, in which I am playing with Arab partners from all over the Arab world…
Zaki always says, “life is the best rehearsal” – hang out, talk, have coffee, talk, eat, talk…
T: a lot of Hummus…
I: a lot of great food!! but also, I’m sure that there will be a lot of initial tension. and in that case, Zaki always says, “life is the best rehearsal” – hang out, talk, have coffee, talk, eat, talk…
T: a lot of talking
I: improvisers love talking
T: and what about rehearsing?
I: of course!!! also rehearse!! don’t be lazy bastards!! but know each other on a personal level so you can have some level of friendship when you are than later on stage. because friendship is a very important component in good impro, I believe.
T: so you and Zaki are friends? you can talk about everything?
I: everything except for: “who started the mess in the middle east”
T: you could answer “the europeans have”?
T: will you bring up something like that in the show?
I: for sure! we already have. one time it was super funny and the other time it made me cry
T: on stage?
T: not very professional
I: I used it for the character.
T: I see. we’re approaching the end
I: of the world?
T: of the interview
I: oh thank god
T: you’re not having fun?
I: no… I thought the end of the world so.. but the end of the interview it’s… it’s not as dramatic… I mean…
T: what is the message of your show “playing with the enemy”?
I: “fuck governments!”
T: you used bad words again …
T: why all the negativity?
I: I thought it would sound cool…
T: so there’s no deeper meaning?
I: well… the idea is that there is a way for people to get along although they are different. I am not giving up my cultural identity to make the show or my friendship with Zaki work. I am culturally a Jew and an Israeli, I served in the Israeli army…
T: did you have an Uzi?
I: M-16. I am all these things who make me who I am but I will not buy the dogmatic lies that leaders in our area spread so they can make more money. I am also not saying all Arabs and all Israelis can get along! I am far from thinking that the problems in the middle east can be solved in a year and we will all drive happily to the sunset, but I will not fear and hate because somebody wants me to.
T: but you do fear and hate…
I: many times! as I said – these are confusing times for me. but I am trying to stay observant of what I feel and think. I try to feel it all. think it all. but at the same time – check where my feeling and thoughts come from. maybe they are not really mine, but I keep them – because I might need them in an impro scene one day.
T: that sounds quite challenging… for me as an improviser, I mean…
I: take my workshop
T: I have a final question
I: after that speech I just gave??
T: what helps an artist to make a breakthrough in his career?
I: you mean in their career
T: what’s the difference?
I: well when you say his, it’s like you are only talking about m….
T: just answer the question
I: well, I can’t speak for all artists man or woman but I was always fascinated by this sentence that my dearly loved acrobatic teacher used to say:
I: “talent is 90 percent the ability to be persistent.” this sentence made me kinda depressed when i was younger because I saw myself being a slave to my work and working hard and having no fun. and indeed sometimes it is like that. but in other times it’s a lot of fun! and my aim is always to be better and better, never to reach the end of my progress. so sometimes I have breakthroughs and at other times I feel I am running is circles of nothingness. but I know they will pass, and I need to keep on going so the next breakthrough can arrive.
T: doesn’t sound like fun
I: define fun
T: this interview is over
I: thank you I had a lot of…
Playing With The Enemy: Nov 15, 8.30pm @ Ratibor Theater –get tickets here