SPACE: What is your company name and project that you have been working on at SPACE on Ryder Farm?
Kobi: The company doesn’t really have a name right now, but my name is Kobi Libii and I’m an actor, director, and improviser. I have invited a group of actors to come up to SPACE with me to work on a new style of theatrical improvisation that feels less like comedy club improv, whose line is it anyway, and UCB and it feels (even though it’s improvised) a bit more like a scripted play would. Does that make sense?
SPACE: Yes of course. Now did the actors all know each other before coming up?
Kobi: Some of them did… I’ve worked on this style with all of them before at different points, but some of them had worked with each other, with me [directing] on it and others of them had worked with different people on it.
SPACE: Got it. Now where are you in the process?
Kobi: Oh gosh, that’s a good question… well, we’re workshopping. The first time anybody [other than the people participating in it] saw it was yesterday, when you and some friends came by and watched our rehersal.
SPACE: Oh wow, that was really good though, it didn’t seem like the first time you all had an audience.
Kobi: Oh thank you, good, yes that was literally the first time anyone who is not doing it had seen it…so that’s where we are, if that’s any indication. We’re still figuring out how it works because it is more of a style than a show. It’s a process; it’s a way to approach making improvised theatre. We’re still figuring out what the best finished package is going to look like, whether it’s going to look like a fully improvised play or whether it’s going to be more like a collage, or whether it’s even better suited for film or for theatre…but we’re still working all of that out. It’s such a process and not a product, that we’re figuring out the product that is going to be most effectively matched to the way of working and the way of building.
SPACE: It sounds very experimental, it’s great. So, how have you spent your time at SPACE?
Kobi: Well, we had three days here, and we fortunately spent a lot of good time eating very delicious organic food, so thats been satisfying. We watched the sunset the other night, we went out by the lakefront and had a bonfire another night, and we also watched a movie outdoors…they were all very fun. In terms of the work, the first day I tried to sort of get everyone up to speed on the way I think about this style… what it is, what it isn’t, how to do it, and what it looks like and what it doesn’t look like. Even though i’ve worked with everyone before, i’ve worked with them at sort of different points in my thinking of what it was, so the first day was really spent just getting everyone on the same page. Then the second day, we worked on different, longer products that could work like a piece of theatre. We improvised probably 4-hour long plays in that style. Then we also did some other sort of collage work, where it was less of a coherent narrative and more isolated scenes that had some theme that tied them together. And then today, our third day, we were looking at it on film. So instead of using the improv vocabulary of pantomiming and sort of pretending you’re anywhere, we actually traveled around the farm to different spaces and worked in physical settings, and didn’t pretend we were anywhere other than the physical settings we were in. Also, we filmed some of that work to see sort of what stories we could tell when the camera is controlling what your’e looking at as opposed to in [improvised] theatre, where where the attention is focused is a bit more free flowing. So that’s what we did. You know, there was this great scene, where one of our actors was just listening to the two other actors talk…but shooting it, we just focused on the character listening, yet on stage I feel like people tend to look at the people talking unless it’s very much directed otherwise. You really have to set that up and lift up a silent person that is in the background of a conversation, but by just zooming the camera in that particular way, it sort of lifted her up as the protagonist in some ways and made it more her story than I think it would have been in the theatre. That was a nice permission to have and a nice tool to be able to employ, because in that case i wanted it to be her story. I was more interested in what she was doing, and I can tell you that with a camera in a way that improvised theatre could only tell if they had a specific lighting grid or something, and it’s hard to do that.
SPACE: Do you know which style you like better?
Kobi: I don’t know yet, I think it has potential in both and so i wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up living both as a way to make film and a way to make theatre. But yeah, I’ll get back to you on that…
SPACE: Sounds good, so how do you see your project proceeding from this residency?
Kobi: Sure, well the first thing I’m going to do is look at the footage we shot today and see what that looks like. Also, I’m going to sit alone and think for a long time. For whatever reason, I find it (especially in the city) when we are not at somewhere peaceful and relaxing like on Ryder Farm, it’s sometimes difficult for me to collect my thoughts on something without dedicating time for that. So probably what I’ll do is take an hour or two and just sit in a coffee shop and think about what I learned. I find that during that time, things tend to occur to me that normally wouldn’t if I didn’t give myself a dedicated sort of brain rambling time.
SPACE: Do you think you’d ever want to be an actor in this style or just a director?
Kobi: Um yeah… I would love to be an actor in this style. It’s challenging for a couple of reasons though. First, it’s such a different style than comedic improvisation, and that’s what I’m trained in, so I think it would take a fair amount of reorienting of my own process and tendencies to be as proficient in this style as people that don’t have my particular improv background. And to be clear, the actors that I work with tend to be very wonderful scripted actors, so it’s a little easier to sort of jump in with them when they don’t have those prejudices about how the work should go…but maybe someday..
SPACE: Of course. Okay, changing the topic, if you came back in another life and were a vegetable or a farm animal, what would you be?
Kobi:Good question…Wow, a vegetable or a farm animal…
SPACE: Go for a vegetable
Kobi: Yeah, I am going to go for a vegetable… for some reason the first thing that popped into my mind were radishes. I can’t even remember the last time I had a radish though. I think maybe the radish is sort of a mysterious vegetable - there’s a lot of intrigue surrounding it. It seems interesting and I want to know more. It’s probably really rich in nutrients, but I don’t really even know what it is, so I think I will take the mysterious radish.
SPACE: A radish… very interesting, so did you enjoy your time at SPACE?
Kobi: Oh, I loved my time here. We absolutely wouldn’t have been able to do what we did if we weren’t here. And like I said, I was working with actors who don’t usually improvise, and improvising is tough. It requires a lot of trust because you’re just throwing yourself out there. Then to take people who in some cases don’t even know each other and throw them together in three days and ask them to improvise a full length play or improvise on camera, it really does require a very particular place that can make people feel at ease and at home. A place that’s not this sort of competitive cut throat rat race of New York City, so yeah, this was the perfect place to do this kind of work.
Interview conducted and transcribed by Linda Wang.