What did Tanja bring home from Flock festival 2024?

I had the privilege to participate in the first ever Flock festival of Flock Theatre in Amsterdam. The festival was produced by Laura and Gael Doorneweerd-Perry, Tanine Dunais, and Christianna Tsigkou. Also, a huge amount of volunteers took part in making the international festival happen and be welcoming.

If you have been to Impro Amsterdam, this was a bit smaller and cozier festival, that had a cute and hipsterish venue in an artistic block of shipping containers called Treehouse. Also, at an improv festival, it’s possible to get to know new people quite fast: especially if you do an improv workshop with them, often they feel familiar in a nice way. It is kind of easy to dive in to the festival community: when you share a passion, there is always a lot to talk about.  

There were a few themes that I have been reflecting still one week after the festival. This blog post is about those topics that will stick with me. 


At the festival, I participated in three workshops:  

– David Moncada Varela’s Improvisation for the camera (2 days)  

– Chris Mead’s Small time criminals (1 day) 

– Paul Berrocal’s Contemporary language (1 day) 

I made the workshop choices mostly based on the length of the workshop (I prefer long ones), the teachers, and the course descriptions. I did not know Paul at all, but as a language teacher the language-related theme sounded fascinating. 

By coincidence, there was quite a nice continuum of listening through repetition in all three workshops. The sympathetic pedagogue from Columbia, David, taught us truth and point of view, as he put it. Basically, the workshop was about authenticity and honest reactions, although we talked also about how the audience is able to (and wants to) live also negative and strong feelings, which we often hide in the real life, through actors. This kind of emotional/dramatic improv I love to watch and to do. David turned his experience of making movies by letting actors improvise a lot and live in the characters, into a beautiful workshop. However, the workshop name was tiny bit misleading: working for the camera had been more an inspiration for David, it was not so closely related to the content.  

My favourite things in David’s workshop were that exercises in general were long as we had a lot of time and we did many pair/group exercises where we reacted to each other (to kinesthetic impulses as David called it) while music was playing at the background. We focused in listening and reacting, and David talked a lot about improv being reacting to external impulses. To practise this, we used Meisner-inspired repetition exercises. Here a made-up example: 

– You took a step back.  

– I took a step back.  

– You took a step back?

– I took a step back.  

– Are you afraid of me? (This moment David calls “a point of view” of a character: now we know something about the two characters’ relationship.) 

– I am afraid of you. 

We finished the workshop by getting characters from David (for example, a divorced couple), creating past and memories for them, and acting a 15-20 minute long scene that we did outside the workshop space, in a restaurant, and at the yard of it, to see how our acting changed. I loved this, as this reminded me of (Nordic) city larp that I have done (larping at public places) and which I deeply love. The workshop was quite memorable and inspirational, for so many reasons. 

Tanja and Ross doing a scene, teacher David at the background. Picture by: Anne Gelebart.

With the most enthusiastic teacher, Chris from UK, we got into a one specific (movie inspired) genre and got tools, like status, reacting and storytelling, to play scenes and stories. The genre, small time criminal stories, was inspired by Coen brothers (e.g. Fargo, I think also for example Tarantino’s Pulp fiction was mentioned). In those stories, criminals try to live their life and usually make a lot of mistakes on the way, ending up deeper and deeper in the trouble. One of the tools related to listening and reacting was repetition, again the Meisner way. For example, we look at each other, make observations, and say those aloud. Despite the exercise being the same as in David’s workshop, every teacher has their own way to introduce these exercises, therefore it felt different to do it with tiny bit different guidelines, different people, and after different warm-ups. And, quite nice dialogues we made with keeping this in mind: repetition actually fits the genre like a fist into an eye, as we say in Finnish. Repetition worked quite well with status play also. For example, in an exercise where both characters admire each other and try to raise the status for each other, repetition was a functional tool (made up example again):

– You are here. 

– I am here. You are also here.  

– I am truly here.  

– I am happy to have you here. (and so on) 

With Chri,s we did a lot of exercises with half a group (about 6-7 persons) and in the end, for a 1-day workshop, we had surprisingly many chances to do scenes. 

My last workshop was about the rhythm and power of talk and pauses in scenes. Paul is from France/Switzerland and he used scripted theater as the source of our inspiration. We practiced repetition to get into the flow and rhythm, pausing and reacting (Meisner was not mentioned, but as we talked later, I heard that naturally Meisner was there as one of the sources for Paul’s thinking). However, this time, we did this in a circle and played a lot with the repetition and the rhythm, like: 

– I would love to dance with you.  

– You would love to dance with me.  

– You would love to dance with me? 

– I would love to dance with you.  

– She would love to dance with me.  

– She would love to dance with her. (And so on, we had made up fixed sentences for each participant in the circle.) 

Afterwards, we got into the different ways of delivering a line by reading excerpts of actual, but very different kind of scripts. We tried to keep in mind what we heard, when we then moved on to improvised scenes. Again, we talked about listening, tactical pauses (that we would maybe not dare to use in real life), and reacting: we can answer immediately, speak on top of each other, react “too late”, or not react at all. It is not always about what you say, but how and WHEN you say it. All in all, this was quite different from many other workshops I have done recently, but very thought-provoking one.   

In the workshops the “be affected” principal was also mentioned a few times when we talked about reactions. In other words, let the impulses that your partners offer to you have an effect, let it land in you. Be open and be in the present.  


Being affected and open for external impulses has much to do with something I call here authenticity in improv. An honest reaction (surprise, disappointment, curiosity) is so lovely to see in a scene, may it be in improv rehearsals or on a stage. Authenticity, vulnerability, and being affected by impulses also have quite much to do with another love of mine, clowning (oh, so much improv and theatre clowning by taught hospital clowns have in common).  

I also thought of authenticity and connection while watching the shows at the festival. We saw a show called Backgammon by Tanine and Christianna, where they drew inspiration from their background as an Iranian and a Greek woman. This was very powerful: they played an intense game of backgammon in the middle of the audience, and then we saw a monoscene where they took advantage of their backgrounds: they talked about traditions of their culture, people, even used idioms and proverbs of their mother tongues. It was a delight to see that, as Tanine teaches wonderful diversity workshop where she supports people in seeing their background as a strength in improv instead of a deficit, that she brought to stage what she teaches. (It must be noted, that they did not play as themselves, but as characters still.) Also, in a show by other locals, Jeroen and Rosanne’s Show #2, there was something in their connection, emotions, and acting, that made me think of authenticity. Authenticity relates also to another element of the shows, real-life stories, that we heard.  


I of course enjoy watching improv that has emphasis on comedy, but I may have melancholic soul as I do enjoy often the most when an improv scene touches me. There was quite much storytelling embedded in many of the shows in different ways. In a show called The True North, we heard two senior local Amsterdamers tell stories about Amsterdam, and the stories functioned as offers for the improv players to do scenes. This is something that we have done with my home group too (asking short stories from audience members) but the stories of the locals in this show were quite long, the storytellers had a microphone and they were at the side of a stage, so they really got their spotlight. 

Another touching format was called The Scandalous Women of Amsterdam, where we first saw a picture and heard from improv players some short life stories of interesting or somehow peculiar women who had lived in the city: a boxer who never lost a fight, an assistant for Nazi military, a person who opened the first gay bar of Amsterdam. Then we saw scenes inspired by these stories. A silent scene (without words but with music) in a restaurant seeing people fall in love was a perfect ending for one of the show evenings. As a woman, I just adore this concept. (Also, when I think of people from the Netherlands, only men come to my mind, so it was quite informative too.)   


Flock Theatre productions often draw inspiration from existing stories, and that’s also one of the reasons how I fell in love with them back in the days. Due to that, some of the shows where something that I waited for the most. During the festival, we saw improv versions of Matrix (AI was also used in defining scenes) and Transperceneige (Snowpiercer). What surprised me was a Moliere-inspired comedy – I have never laughed so hard for an improv play, from the first to the last moment of the play. How delightful it was to see what improv is capable of. When the stakes are high by setting (the train where people are stuck with each other and try to survive, the pompous (stereotypical) roles of noble Frenchmen and their servants), the scenes are intense! One day (this is long-term plan that has been boiling for quite a while), I want to use some Finnish stories also in creating a long improv play. 

Picture of Transperceneige by Mathieu van den Berk / Flock Theatre. The costumes! The stage! The audience seats!

And then there was a mind-blown kind of experience: 


David Moncada Varela was the soundpainter of a show called Soundpainting (see about the soundpainting concept this Soundpainting page). He had three improvers, two dancers (I fell in love with the body language of both), a violinist, a drummer, and a visual artist. The idea is that the soundpainter is like a composer/conductor, who uses special, international signs to make his “orchestra” to move, sing, talk, and make sounds. David used also the audience: the audience talked and reacted a few times to his signs/gestures too. “I don’t know what I’m doing” came to be one of the themes of the performance. I think the phrase came from the audience at some point, then the actors and orchestra grasped it. Dance often touches me, and these dancers were able to convey huge emotions through their dance. When the violin (and the sad eyes of the violinist), the emotion-full live drawing (to the fabric around the dancers and improvisers through a projector) and at times hectic, at times monotonic talk and movement of the improvisers were combined with the dance, the result was magical. I cried almost through the whole performance/soundpainting. 

This performance reminded me of the fact that improvisation is not just for the theater. The musicians, the visual artists, and dancers also use improvisation. How come we so rarely work together? Now that I think of it, at the festival, we saw artists from many fields. There were many musicians with different instruments (a cello and an accordion in Matrix!) in different shows. Also, Babette Hinterleitner was also live-drawing during the improv shows and printed us stickers to remember the shows, how cool was that? 

So, in general, I got again a huge amount of things to bring back to home, and I will probably write also a bit more later, for example about safety in improv and drama.

Good luck with organising the next Flock festival!

I was affected. 

With love,