The Improv Barter project in Brussels – Interview with Dona Ursu

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Dona Ursu
Dona Ursu (Photo: Bogdan Grigore)
macro was a trainer at the second Improv Barter in Brussels in October. The interview was done by email in November.

macro: Hello Dona-Iuliana, first of all, please introduce yourself.
Dona: My name is Dona (nobody calls me by my second name, Iuliana, I shouldn’t have put it in my Facebook id), I am Romanian and have been living in Brussels for 6 years, where I work as an interpreter. Two years ago I discovered theatre improv and I was instantly hooked.

macro: You created an interesting program called Improv Barter. What is that exactly?
Dona: Improv Barter is a project that I’m very fond of. It’s a way to encourage improvisers who want to travel to offer their improv skills in exchange for a great time in Brussels. The way this barter works is that if a traveling improviser offers an improv workshop in Brussels for free he/she will get the following things in return: accommodation at my place, home made gourmet meals and…a knitted hat. The idea is to slowly build a community of people who take these improv workshops, thus benefiting from the skills that the trainer is offering, and then for everyone to start offering stuff and skills in return. I’ve had people offer to give guided tours on Brussels, give guitar lessons, teach French, cook dinners or knit more hats:) Basically, when an improviser comes to Brussels to do Improv Barter, we do our best to spoil him or her.

macro: And I will vouch for that. I had a fantastic time in Brussels. And my knitted hat is awesome. The idea of sharing skills is really great. When did you start with the barter?
Dona: Thanks, it really means a lot to me you saying that. Improv Barter is still in its infancy, so to speak. I launched the idea on Facebook this summer and it was amazing how well it was received. We had the first Improv Barter in August, Nathan Keates from Cardiff, UK.

macro: And how long has this group been around and what kind of group is it?
Dona: It is an open and ever growing group of people of various experience levels, from absolute beginners to performers. Also, the level of the workshops given differs, for example in February we are going to have a Meisner workshop given by Euro Keith from Lyon, so, that might appeal more to actors or people with some acting experience, but of course it is open to everyone, because Improv Barter is about giving people an opportunity to try out new things. This is actually why the group is constantly growing, because I am very passionate about improv and I can’t stop talking about it with everyone, so then people become curious enough to give it a try.
Oh, and we’ve been around for a little less than a year, I think.

macro: Interesting. So it is more a plattform to connect improvisors in Brussels? Do you have classic improv groups or members from improv ensembles?
Dona: Yes, it is a platform to connect improvisors, in the sense that whenever there is an improv teacher from far away coming to Brussels, I shout it from the rooftops (from Facebook rooftops, that is) to all the improvisers that I know in Belgium, not only Brussels, and around (Brussels is very easy and cheap to reach from France, UK, the Netherlands and Germany). So, yes, members of proper improv groups do come to Improv Barter workshops. But at the same time, it is a platform for spreading the improv love and getting new people acquainted with improv. We have had someone completely new to improv at every workshop. And I love it when people discover improv, it’s great to see how smitten they are with it, instantly.

macro: So everything is in English? Brussels, being the capital of Europe, has got an English scene, hasn’t it?
Dona: Yes, the workshops are in English. And there is quite a big English improv scene in Brussels, there is the American Theatre Company that has a strong improv branch, there is Improv for Dummies, a group whose feature is that they are all non-native speakers of English (mostly Italians, I think) and Improv Barter. And I wouldn’t be surprised to discover others that I haven’t met yet. There is a huge audience for English improv here, because of the enormous expat community. That being said, Brussels already had a thriving improv scene in French, the LIB (Ligue d’improvisation belge professionnelle) and FBIA (Fédération belge d’improvisation amateur).
And there is definitely improv in Flemish, too, that I don’t know of, because unfortunately I don’t speak Flemish.

macro: In the workshop that I was invited to teach, we had people from 7 countries. That variety of backgrounds is a huge plus. We played some scenes where the players spoke their mother tongues and every scene was made up of people of different nationalities, remember? How would you say that went?
Dona: Oh yeah, that was great! My favourite game ever:) I agree, having people of so many nationalities makes for an even more exciting improv. That game that we played with you where each person in the scene spoke their mother tongue was brilliant, because every scene was hilarious and people understood each other without the vehicle of language. And also it’s a great way to steer clear of „talking heads“. People are sometimes reluctant to do improv in a foreign language, in this case English, and I always use that game we played with you as an argument that language is not that important and communication and relationships surpass it.

macro: Indeed, it was great to see how well that worked. So do you have any Improv Barter plans for the future?
Dona: I have got plans galore! Getting amazing improvisers to Brussels and teaching my own workshops, open to everyone and free of charge, of course. I am even toying with an idea of organizing an improv festival. When I do it, you will be the first to know.

macro: An Improv Barter festival, that sounds great! How can people apply for Improv Barter?
Dona: Yes, an Improv Barter (joint venture with other groups here!) festival, that’s my secret dream:) People can find Improv Barter on Facebook and/or and simply send me a PM (my FB id is Dona-iuliana Ursu) or write on Improv Barter’s timeline that they are interested and I will contact them. Or simply drop me an email at donaursu@yahoo.com.

macro: And are you looking for any particular improv trainer who would want to visit the beautiful city of Brussels? Any special interests?
Dona: So far, we have had great trainers and it’s hard to say that I want someone in particular. Whenever I meet fascinating improvisers doing fascinating stuff, I try to get them to visit Brussels. Ideally, I would like Improv Barter to be as diversified as possible. For example, there is already a Meisner technique workshop scheduled for early next year. Some of my special interests would be trance masks, physical theatre and contact improv. But also musical improv, solo improv, oh there are so many, I can’t decide.

macro: OK, open for everything, that’s perfect for improv. So, thank you for your time. Improv Barter is a very inspiring idea.
Dona: Thanks you! What else can I say, come to Brussels and meet us!

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Mirko 'macro' Fichtner schreibt seit 2011 für Impro-News. Er ist Gründungsmitglied der Improbanden und Mitorganisator des Berliner Impro Marathon. Webseite: macrone.de
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