Per Gottfredson spent over 3 decades performing and teaching. He’s one of the founders and directors of Stockholms Improvisationsteater, located in the heart of the city. He runs a very special place – a theater where everyone can become a performer. That’s the beauty of improv – spontaneous ensemble theater. Today we are talking about all the benefits of learning stage skills.
Per, what inspired you to start the theater. Was it your passion or just an idea for business in the first place?
Stockholms Improvisationsteater started as an amateur theater in 1989. I joined the group 4 years later. Soon after we wanted to try to do it more professionally. We already had a small school that we tried to expand, so started doing corporate shows for companies. For me it has always been a passion. The artistic work has always been the reason that we exist, it has also led us forward. First, we “tested” the methods on ourselves. How far can you go? Where are the limits? Does it have to be funny?… Already then we had this saying – first you make the audience laugh hard, then you can make them cry, play with emotions, be unpredictable. Every time we learn something new, we spread it to our students.
Where did you come across improv?
I saw improv for the first time on Swedish TV in the eighties. Then I went to a theater school in the south of Sweden for a year. My head teacher was crazy about improv. He talked a lot about the Yes, and… thing. How useful it was in any kind of stage and creative work. All the students from my class also lived at the school, so we played days and nights.
What does improv really mean? How would you explain it to someone who has no idea.
People go on stage together to simply improvise. And to find out what they are playing only while they are playing. It’s a form of art where a script doesn’t exist. It is all about going with the flow, following impulses, creating stories on the spot. It requires focus, cooperation and good communication. Things that make us human, connected. We want to know how it goes and where it will lead us. See what choices the other fellow improvisers make, agree with this and add something from ourselves. On stage, we are a team. The beauty of it is that every show is different, unpredictable.
It sounds pretty advanced. Do you have to be an actor or have a lot of experience?
You don’t have to be an actor. You don’t have to have any experience. It is based on a fundamental human thing – trust. We are not aware of it, but we improvise everyday in our life. When you take an improv class you get the chance to live a little extra. Put yourself into situations that normally, or most likely wouldn’t normally happen. This experience builds self-esteem, confidence, and also helps you to become more creative. We constantly learn from each other.
It still sounds a bit scary, like something for highly confident people…
No. It is for everyone. Often those who are naturally shy, become the best improvisers. Because it takes extra effort to get out of your comfort zone.
I agree, it’s usually beneficial to learn something new against our nature. To whom would you recommend the course?
Anyone who wants to play, learn and develop. In our Swedish classes we have people from 20 to 75 years old. In our English classes we have younger expats, students, people who moved to Sweden, but also Swedes who want to improve their English. We play shows for both English and Swedish people.
So, after so many years, have you overcome stage fright? Do you always feel comfortable in front of an audience?
Hmm.. not always, but most of the time. At least I know that I can’t plan anything. The best ideas come when you’re relaxed and spontaneous.
One of your students told me that improv completely changed his life. From an awkward teenager he transformed into a way more confident and open young person. He revamped his dating skills.
I can imagine… (laugh). Your body and brain learn how to overcome the fear of the unknown. In your life you become more open to unplanned, unexpected things. You learn how to be a better team player. And most importantly, you have a lot of fun. Improv is based on playfulness. You also meet new people. At SIT we also try to have a lot of Jams, and evenings for all our students. There is a bar, where we mingle after every show.
So, how to start the adventure?
If you are unsure, but want to try, we have something called free try-out. You can come and take a 1 hour session in small groups, then you can decide. You can find out more about our courses here: http://www.impro.a.se/kurser.php
It can be a fun way to survive the winter and do something new in life. Thank you so much for your time!