Fun. Passion. Energy. These are words that appear time and time again when you ask people to talk about Nadine Antler.
Originally from Germany, Nadine has made her mark performing and training people from all over the world in improvisational theatre and we were very lucky to have her teach our summer season workshops here at the Courtyard Playhouse in Dubai.
She may be a well-known name in the improv world but Nadine’s career was almost entirely a (happy) accident.
“It just happened!” she says. “Because I liked it [improv] so much I kept doing more and more, and I kept taking classes with people that I thought were really great. I did try different things and we always explored different ways of setting up stuff. It just happened that because I did more of it [improv] that other people wanted to do stuff with me and it just became my job and my life; it took over everything.”
Nadine first started getting interested in improv when she was 21.
“I started social work and in my studies… I did an emphasis on cultural management and within that we also had theatre classes at school — how to teach theatre, different ways of setting up theatre projects and stuff. One of the seminars was improvisation — I didn’t take it, but I watched the show at the end of the semester — and I was so fascinated by it and I wanted to know how much of it was actually improvised.
“I went there afterwards and asked if I could join them, but they said no, because they already had so many women.
“So later on when I did an internship at a cultural house, I had to set up a project and I set up an improvisation course. And it was just always interesting and I kept doing it.”
Her improv career started in Würzburg, Germany, but more recently Nadine moved to Hamburg, where she works as part of the ensemble for Steife Brise.
“I’ve only lived in Hamburg for two years, so I’m still getting to know it. There’s many many groups, and I think most of them, they play the games for entertaining the audience, and there’s some groups that also experiment with other ways of applying improvisation.
“And what’s really nice about Hamburg is I feel like there’s a big openness to learning with each other and from each other. So I feel like there’s less and less competition.”
Other places Nadine has visited to perform and train include Australia, South Africa, Namibia, the United States, Canada, Chile, Columbia, and cities all over Europe, although there are still destinations on her travel bucket list (“There are so many more places to go to!”)
More recently, she’s spent some time with us here in Dubai. What, I wonder, is her favourite thing about the city?
“The people, and that there’s so many people from all different backgrounds living together. It feels like there’s not a lot of prejudice towards people from other places of the Earth, and from what I’ve experience at least, that people are very, very open towards all different kinds of cultures.”
Of the Courtyard Playhouse, she says it’s “very friendly, very warm, very very pretty — not just the people but also the building and how it’s done [decorated].
“I think it’s a theatre that you can see has lots of love put into it and lots of passion, and so everything is happening from the heart, which makes it a lovely place to be.”
Nadine taught three improv workshops this season — Platform & Spirit, Storytelling & Narrative, and Character & Status — as well as leading company training night. She has talked a lot about being calm in scenes and slowing them down, so why does she think it’s so important?
“Because when you’re on stage and people stare at you, it increases your stress level. And when your stress level is increased your brain doesn’t work very well. So we go to the places that we find safe, usually small talk, which is also staying how you are, and part of theatre is being changed, being emotional, and not being in control.
“And I believe the more stress you have, the more you fight for control, so improvisation is all about not being in control and I think the moment you slow down, you realise you can actually breathe on stage and be there with your partner, and you will have a much easier time to react to the other person and to listen to the other person, and to be changed in the scene.”
Would that be her favourite kind of scene to direct?
“I love directing scenes that make me feel like I wanna play in them — make me feel like I wanna be in them myself — so my favourite scenes to direct are probably relationship-based scenes, where it’s about the people, and I love to direct scenes that have something to do with my life, or with the universal story of people.”
As for performing?
“Same thing. I also like funny stuff, like goofy stuff, and the things that are based on games, exploring a game or having fun with people.
“But the ideal world is when a game and a scene meet and you’re playing the game and the scene at the same time. And the ideal world in terms of scene work and the audience is when the audience doesn’t know if they should cry or laugh.”
As well as holding workshops for our company, Nadine has also been using improvisation to teach our corporate clients. Does she see improv having an impact on the corporate industry?
“Yes, very much, I think all corporates should do improv training. We live in a world that is changing so fast and it’s not anymore possible to make plans and go through with your plans, so I think companies now need new ways of dealing with their business and adjusting to what is needed.
“I think that improvisation has a lot of tools and methods that are very useful for companies.
“For example, because we create an environment where mistakes are nothing bad and trying out stuff with the risk of failing is a good thing for us, we’re able to come up with a lot of ideas in a short time, which is good for innovation.
“And also because in improvisation accepting every offer and building onto it is one of our main principals. It’s very useful for developing strategy or a new product or even testing out an idea in a really short time.”
Nadine has had some time to explore during her trip to Dubai — what does she like to do during her spare time?
“If there is spare time!” she laughs. “No, one of the big problems is, erm, ever since I stopped working in my other job, which was running a venue, I’m only an improviser, and before improvisation was kind of part of my hobby, so I would do a lot of things just because of fun, and since I started just doing improvisation, I feel like I am missing a hobby a little bit. So I’m experimenting with it right now.
“I’ve always loved reading and swimming, but I’m also just experimenting with dancing, sailing, um, stuff like this. Just exploring stuff! I wanna try out as many new things as possible, so then I find something else that’s outside of the things that I see, that might excite me.”
Nadine will return to the UAE to teach a workshop called Stay Inspired at the Dubai Impro Fringe and iTi Conference in November; it should come as no surprise that someone with such a curious nature has a long list of influences…
BT: Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
BT: It’s a big question!
NA: You mean in terms of improvisation or in life?
NA: Well I’m very inspired by Buddhism. I think as a philosophy it’s very close to what we believe in as improvisers, so I’m also very inspired by the Buddhist teachers, you know, the Dalai Lama, or the Karmapa, very inspired by that.
There are many many good movies, and plays and TV shows that inspire me. I’m a big fan of Chekhov plays. And in terms of improvisation, there’s some people that were really big influences for me. Shawn Kinley has been a huge influence on me, he used to be my teacher for a long time. Keith Johnstone, of course. Patti Stiles. I’ve had a big influence from clowning, John Turner, Mike Kennard and Aitor Basauri are big influences for my clown teachers. I’ve worked a lot with Felipe [Ortiz] from Columbia — so many people! Oh! One of my first teachers, international teachers, were the Crumbs, Lee White and Stephen Sim, and I’ve been very much trained by them too. So many people, it’s hard to answer! Just so many names. French guys that I look up to, like Matthieu Loos and Marko Mayerl, Slovenian guys that I look up to from the Theater Narobov, Antonio Vulpio from Italy…
I thought I’d close the interview by asking Nadine for some words of wisdom. What advice would she give to someone who wants to start improv but isn’t sure what to do or where to begin?
“I would say, just do it. Because you can think about it, and you can talk about it, but you will only find out once you’ve tried.”
And what’s the best advice she could give to an improviser?
“That’s a hard one, because everyone is at a different path and different spot in their life. But probably something like, well, it’s a big one, but: do whatever the moment benefits from most.”
Nadine Antler will be leading two workshops at the Dubai Impro Fringe and iTi Conference this November: Through the Fourth Wall and Stay Inspired. You can book here: http://dubaiimprofringe.org/register/
– Beth Tolson