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Event: Improv Masala – Nov 2022

What happens when a multicultural cast of improvisers from Auckland do a take on Bollywood? That’s the question that one group has set out to answer.

With the support of the Covert Theatre in Ponsonby, producers Ambika Ganesh-Kumar and Yoong Ru Heng present Improv Masala – an improvised show that is performing for four nights in November, celebrating the Bollywood masala movie in all its glory. It is an unscripted show, where the audience will offer suggestions to inspire the story and the cast will create the dialogue and dance on the spot. No audience members will be pulled onto the stage. “We’re taking Bollywood and basing it very much in Auckland life – whether as migrants or New Zealand-born,” says Ambika Ganesh-Kumar, “plus we’re adding song and dance to it!”

A member of the Covert Theatre for over six years, Ganesh-Kumar has Indian Tamil roots and moved to Auckland as a teenager, growing up on a steady diet of Tamil and Hindi films. She is an IT professional by day, and discovered improv when she was a stay-at-home mum to two preschoolers. Now, her children also do improv at the Covert programmes for kids. “I love improv, and I wanted to do something that puts our diversity front and centre. I want to bring Bollywood masala to the improv audience and bring more South Asians to the improv scene.” A significant part of this also saw Ganesh-Kumar reach out to Prayas Theatre, New Zealand’s largest South Asian theatre and cultural group. “It’s important to me that we build these connections amongst different communities, but also to understand how we can make sure that we celebrate the storytelling, not mock it. The insights and advice from Prayas have been incredibly helpful.” This connection resulted in members of the Prayas Theatre participating in an improv workshop in September this year.

Heng is originally from Malaysia and is a long-time fan of Bollywood. She also works in IT during the day. “I started with improv as a way to build my confidence, and I stayed there for the fun, laughter and creativity.” She has been a Covert member for over three years and says she jumped at the chance to join as a co-producer. “The vision for this show is to be inclusive of all ethnic groups,” she says, “and to showcase the sweetness and joy of masala films and make it relevant to the audience here in Aotearoa New Zealand.” 

With this ethos, the multicultural cast includes Indians, Sri Lankan, Malaysian-Chinese, British, Russian-Canadian and Aotearoa New Zealanders. None of the cast have a common spoken language other than English, which in itself is a by-product of colonisation and generational migration. “There’s so much comedy to be mined in the gaps between cultures, that is an absolute joy to play with,” says Ganesh-Kumar. “What’s become evident as we play in those gaps is that some things are universal – feelings, relationships, parents!”

The Covert Theatre is New Zealand’s largest improvised comedy theatre company. Founded by Wade Jackson in 2001, it opened its own venue in 2020. It is home to many genres which are improvised: Shakespeare, Broadway, film noir, murder mystery, Star Trek. And now, it makes room for one more.The masala genre, invented by Bollywood, is a mish-mash of genres with an Indian twist – hence the name masala, which is a blend of spices. It includes action, musical, romance, comedy, melodrama, family and, of course, dancing. As Heng says, “Bollywood is global, and it’s adored and consumed by millions around the world, not just South Asians.”

The cast invites you to the Covert Theatre in Ponsonby as they serve up a Tāmaki Makaurau-Bollywood story on the spot. There will be drama. There will be fighting. There will be dancing. There will be earworms. There will be comedy. 

Improv Masala

11, 12, 18, 19 November 2022 7.30pm 

Covert Theatre, 51 Mackelvie St, Ponsonby 

Tickets: $22 click to book   

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