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Interview: Paul Rabenowitz on Starting The Assembly Improv South Africa

Gautend-based school of long-form improv and sketch comedy launches with virtual performance

Interview: Paul Rabenowitz on Starting The Assembly Improv South Africa

Joining a global community with sister schools in Toronto, Mexico City and Amsterdam, The Assembly Improv South Africa welcomes an international cast of "improvisers, clowns and performers" to flaunt their comedic skills in this weekend's launch show. Founded by performer and teacher Paul Rabenowitz, he tells BroadwayWorld South Africa of what to expect from this new improv venture.

BWW: Let's start with a bit of a history about you. What's your performing background and how did you specifically get involved in improv?

Paul: I originally studied the classical guitar at university. Through music I discovered my love and passion or teaching and for the past 25 years I have been teaching: from the classical guitar to fencing, and for the past 15 years teaching post graduate financial planning courses. My love of improv came from being a comedy nerd for many years and I noticed all my favorite actors and comedians all had their start in improv. I have since studied improv all around the world with amazing comedians and wonderful schools.

BWW: How did you come to start The Assembly Improv South Africa?

Paul: The Assembly was first formed in Toronto to teach long-form game-based improvisation. This type of improv is where scenes are created and have a comedic engine based on a pattern of behaviour that is weird, interesting or unusual. The Assembly expanded to Mexico by an improviser who wanted to expand the long-form improv comedy scene there, and recently also Amsterdam and South Africa. IInterview: Paul Rabenowitz on Starting The Assembly Improv South Africa travelled to Canada to meet with the global Assembly community and in early 2020 began the foundations for building the long-form improv community in Gauteng.

BWW: What's the main goal of The Assembly?

Paul: I founded the Assembly Improv South Africa in order to create a community of comedians, teach long-form improv and sketch comedy and develop a space where improv, sketch and character comedy can be performed.

BWW: Tell us a bit about the performers. It's quite an international cast of players you have!

Paul: I have been fortunate in my travels to befriend amazing improvisers, clowns and performers from around the world. To celebrate the launch of the Assembly Improv SA live from our Facebook page and Twitch and to give a showcase of long-form improv comedy, I asked a few to join for the free online show and performing amazing scenes made up on spot. Some of the performers include:

  • Ken Hall (The Umbrella Academy, People of Earth)
  • Will Hines (Brooklyn 99, Broad City, Search Party)
  • Shannon O'Neill (Broad City, High Maintenance, Difficult People)
  • Legendary improvisers David Razowsky and Susan Messing
  • Rob Norman (Sunnyside, Personal Best podcast)
  • Adam Cawley (Workin' Moms, Baroness Von Sketch Show)
  • Sasha Feiler (Robot Chicken)
  • Chad Damiani (Cake, FX)
  • Gabrielle Fleck (Fatima, Netflix; Dark Soccer, Amazon Prime)
  • Isaac Kessler (Man Seeking Woman, Satisfaction)

Interview: Paul Rabenowitz on Starting The Assembly Improv South Africa

BWW: How do you see The Assembly contributing to the South African performance space? Where do you see it in 5 years' time?

Paul: We hope to grow the improv and sketch comedy communities, provide regular performance platforms, and teach people how to perform long-form improv. We also aim to develop new content and make comedy, writing and performing a career. Improv has such an incredible power to change peoples' lives! It helps with personal anxiety, dealing with social situations, helping one being a better presenter, salesperson, actor and finding your comedic voice.

BWW: What was it like putting everything together during lockdown?

Paul: One of the benefits of the lockdown was that I had access to comedians all around the globe to perform online from the comfort of their own homes! It means we could see and performers who would probably never have been able to make it to South Africa all on the same line up.

BWW: What can audiences expect from the local launch this weekend? Why should they tune in?

Paul: FUN! We have a variety of shows in the show. We have improv groups, internationally acclaimed duo teams as well as some of what we call ClownProv - the absurd mix of improv and clown. Some will be off-the-wall crazy improv comedy while others will be a slower, character-based comedy.

BWW: And to end, what more can we look forward to from The Assembly in 2021?

Paul: We will be offering open sessions for anyone to try improv, introduction to long-form improv classes and further into 2021 we will unroll our full curriculum as well as classes on sketch comedy, characters and workshops on improv for actors. We also look to include all SA languages and cultures as we look to expand and let improv adapt to our national humour - through silent improv and babel improv where everyone speaks their own mother-tongue on stage and hilarity often ensues!

Photo credit: Supplied

THE ASSEMBLY IMPROV SOUTH AFRICA's launch show can be watched on Facebook Live or Twitch on Saturday 6 March 2021 at 18.30. For more information on The Assembly please visit their Facebook page.

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