Five Things with Matt Powell
Five Things with Matt Powell
A three-time Wellington Pun Battle champion and regular Late Night Knife Fight competitor with a background in dance and musical theatre, Matt is a true triple threat who believes that spontaneity and quality should not be mutually exclusive. He’s one of the Locomotive co-founders - here’s his five things!
ONE: WHERE HAS YOUR IMPROV JOURNEY TAKEN YOU?
I think I did my first TheatreSports class at age 11 or so, but the first improv I can actually remember was towards the end of high school, when our school's team was in the finals and the reserve had broken his arm. I wasn't even the reserve for the team, I was just some kid who'd been in some plays, but suddenly I was in the Christchurch TheatreSports finals at the Court Theatre. All I can recall is that there was a scene about coal miners and I did a Welsh accent.
I spent a few years doing various improv, sketch, and musical shows at university, and then in 2002 I joined the Court Jesters. Over the next 12 years or so I got to know improv through performing in Scared Scriptless (their twice-weekly late-night improv show), teaching TheatreSports to high schoolers, and dressing up as an elf for way too many Lord of the Rings-themed corporate events.
But in between, I started coming to the NZ Improv Festival, and learning about all the other things improv could be. I met some of my favourite improvisors and favourite people, and in 2015 I moved to Wellington to just kind of soak it all in.
Since then, I've performed and taught with PlayShop, WIT, and Basejump. I've played with the Scruffy Bunny house team, Double Fancy, as well as at Late Night Knife Fight, way too many Fringe shows, five soaps with Wellington Soap Factory, and of course my very favourite improv show of all.
TWO: WHAT'S YOUR VERY FAVOURITE IMPROV SHOW OF ALL?
Jen and I were hanging out at BATS one night after a show, and we started kicking around an idea for a show where we had a different guest each night, and just did whatever improv the three of us felt like at the time. Then we thought: what if even we didn't know who the guest was until they were on stage? There'd be no way to predict what kind of show it would be! And that's how Awkward Threesome was born.
I love it because each show is completely unique, but it's not just what the guest is bringing. There's a synergy that happens with three people on stage with no plan, especially when you've only just met a few minutes before (as happened when we took the show to Melbourne for Comedy Festival in 2018). One show we did with Maddie Parker (who flew all the way from Sydney to surprise us, what an absolute darling) ended with the three of us playing fourteen characters, who all had to be on stage at the same time.
THREE: WHAT'S THE SECRET TO MAKING IT UP?
There are probably all kinds of secrets, but the one I think works for me is: try to make up as little as possible. I don't mean you should plan out your scenes or write scripts or have stock characters or whatever, but: you've been in the world absorbing culture and trivia and skills for at least two or three decades, there's so much there you can use. Sometimes this means throwing in a few words of a language you've studied, or using those dance lessons, or giving your character an obscure hobby (or disease) you just happen to know a lot about, but other times it means tapping into the vast web of themes, tropes, and story structures that connect us all. If you're in a scene and you start to recognise a particular kind of story pattern happening, that's great news because the odds are the same thing is happening in the minds of your scene partner and your audience.
FOUR: WHAT'S ONE MYTH ABOUT IMPROV YOU WISH YOU COULD DISPEL?
That improv is about "thinking quickly". You have to react quickly, but often that means you don't have time to think. Thinking is the enemy of good improv. It's also the reason a lot of improvisors kind of forget they have entire bodies, because we're too busy trying to think fast enough to keep up with the scene. Why bother? It's hard work, and it's no fun. I think a lot of improvisors need to be lazier in their scenes — which is not the same as being sloppy! I just mean don't try so hard to think quickly, and maybe we'll all have more fun. Signed, a lifelong thinkprovisor.
FIVE: EVERY COMEDY SHOW SEEMS TO HAVE AN EPISODE WHERE ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS JOINS AN AWFUL IMPROV TROUPE. WHICH IS THE BEST ONE?
Bojack Horseman, "Yes And" (Season 2, Episode 10). Special mention to Broad City’s “Stolen Phone” (Season 1, Episode 6).