Dickie and the birth of a vocation
Like Obelix and the magic potion, Mark Jane fell into improvisation when he was a wee thing, even if he actually measured a reasonable number of centimetres. At 13 his school theatre teacher was the avant-gardist Richard Wheal. Otherwise known as “Dickie”, Mr Wheal was an inspired reader of “Impro” the revolutionary opus by Keith Johnstone and he set about initiating his young group of adolescents into the Johnstonian arcanes of improvised theatre that was an exciting new art form in the 1980’s. Directed by Dickie, Mark explored the hidden treasures of creativity, authentic spontaneity and narrative techniques to allow his improvised sketches to become true stories that demanded attention. The audacious Dickie – because in the country of Shakespeare you need to be audacious to dedicate such a young group of students to improvisation – even pushed their experimentation to the point of creating fully improvised plays. The French improvisation scene cannot thank Dickie enough, as it is through his insightful classes that Mark discovered his vocation of improviser.
University college of Ripon and York St John
Determined to continue working in the world of theatre, Mark joined the Theatre, Film and Television department of the University College of Ripon and York St.John. During his stay in this venerable institution he cultivated and shared his love for impro by running workshops for his fellow students. He also discovered the universe of television and cinema that would hone his narrative skills. No doubt this training is at the origin of show formats like “Improflicks”, “The Director” and “Double O Impro” that would appear in later years.
The big tour of the kingdom
Fresh out of uni with his diploma in theatre, Mark launched himself into the precarious life of an actor. As luck would have it he rapidly joined a theatre company in an extreme tour performing 2 shows a day for 6 months in all the primary and middle schools of the United Kingdom. This Theatre in Education program gave the British youth the possibility to discover live theatre and allowed Mark to accumulate hours and hours of precious stage time as he learnt his trade. Was it life on the roads of his homeland that made him want to set sail for foreign shores or the growing sentiments for his girlfriend who originated from the land of Voltaire? One thing is certain, in 1996, Mark Jane crossed the Channel and arrived in Paris.
A Johnstonian in the land of the Match
Two challenges awaited Mark in Paris: learn French and invent a new life. His improvisation skills allowed him to find a place in the world of corporate events. In his early days in Paris he earnt his crust as an actor by entertaining the crowds with improvised characters for themed evenings and events.
At the same time he began to discover the impro community in the capital that swore by a teacher called Robert Gravel and a show format called a Match. When Mark evoked his shows that had no ice rink, no referee and no coaching he was considered as a UFO.
It is not until 2000 that Mark managed to fully overcome his first challenge of learning French. He performed and improvised for the first time in the language of Molière, the first of many shows to come.
The Improfessionals or the Johnstonian revolution
In 2001 Mark received a phone call from Florian Bartsch, directer of the impro school « No slippers and no socks ». Having heard of Mark’s impro skills, Florian asked him if he would like to perform a show with his students in English. It is amusing to note how strange destiny can be as a whole page of improvisation history was written in an insignificant location. Thus on the 14th of May 2001, in a corner of the Café Oz in Pigalle, in front of a friendly crowd of expatriates, Mark, Florian and the impro students performed “Improvisation Insanity” and revolutionized the Parisan impro scene forever. A few days before the show one of the students had the idea of calling their group “The Improfessionals”. That night, under the watchful eye of Lucy their mascot, they had as much fun as their audience and have never stopped performing since. From that moment on the life of Mark Jane, in a certain fashion, became intertwined with the history of improvisation in France.
The phenomena soon spread beyond the English speaking community. More and more French speakers discovered the Improfessionals and their unique improvisation style that, without forgetting to be funny, was sensitive, story based and above all celebrated mistakes with liberating pleasure.
The original line-up is a list of players who would become veritable institutions in the Parisian impro world : Florian Bartsch, Clara McBride, Caspar Schjelbred, for many years this dream team delighted audiences with totally original improvised shows in their unique style. If their short form shows and other of their impro games seemed similar to aspects of the Match, the team’s pioneer instincts led them to create revolutionary long form shows.
An « Improvised Soap Opera » that played every weekend for a month in the Théô Théâtre. “Attack of the Improfessionals” a totally improvised play in the universe of 1950’s science-fiction B movies at the Théâtre de Nesle. And also….improvised musicals.
Even in short form the Improfessionals distinguished themselves with “Improflicks”, their improvised film festival, or when they attacked current affairs in “Totally News” as they improvised stories based on headlining news. Led by Caspar Schjelbred and his passion for physical theatre and movement in improvisation they performed “Bubble Soup”, a format that was later adopted by other troupes (notably the Komptoir de l’impro).
Mark Jane created the formats “Coffee”, based on the universal pass time of “people watching” in coffee bars, and “Synopsis”, creating full stories from a cinema synopsis and rekindling his old love for cinema. In 2014 he became the artistic director of the Improfessionals and continued to explore the possibilities of improvised performance.
His colossal work and experimentation has allowed him to achieve in spectacular fashion all kinds of possibilities on stage. His creative talent is surely one of the most fertile in the world of French improvisation. The adepts of the Match therefore began to consider other show formats in an attempt to push their improvisation experience further. Others found in the work and performance of Mark the spark that would ignite forever their passion for this unique art form.
Many spectactors, seduced by the group’s performance, wanted to know their secrets and began taking classes at the Impro Academy. Mark, being the first apostle of Keith Johnstone in France, took on the responsibility of preaching the performance philosophy of his master. The core of the Impro Academy is obviously impregnated with Johnstonian concepts: the subtleties of status in a scene and the interactions it generates, theatricality, celebrating failure, the capacity to create comedy without trying to be funny…
Mark even managed to bring the illustrious theoretician himself to Paris. He would be followed by his disciples from Loose Moose Theatre Calgary, who opened up more obscure areas of Keith Johnstone’s teaching to French improvisers, like Trance Mask. Every year the Impro Academy welcomed Steve Jarand and his collection of masks to explore, for the duration of a workshop and a unique show, his unique techniques. Mark, not wanting to wait for the annual visit from Steve, has since made his own series of masks and half-masks to introduce interested improvisers and actors to the art of mask. In the company of Tama Carroll, he brought the masks to the stage at the Théâtre Pixel in “Vie DéMasqué”, where masks and humans discovered each other in a tender and poetic game or mirrors. In 2015 he created “Trance Mask France”, the first French structure dedicated to the teaching and creation of shows with Trance Mask techniques.
Thanks to Marks skills as an interpreter, Keith Johnstone’s teaching has even made its way out of the rehearsal studios, into French printing presses and has finally found its place on the shelves of book stores in France. Mark made an important contribution to ensure that the French translation of “Impro – Improvisation and theatre” was as close to the original as possible. This essential guide to Johnstone’s thoughts was finally published in French in 2013.
Mark, patriarch of the Parisian impro community
For many years, Mark not only promoted Johnstone’s teaching, but also his show formats in Parisian theatres. The theatrical boards of the capital have served to celebrate Gorilla theatre, Theatresports and above all Micetro, an elimination game where the audience scores each scene until the highest scoring player is elected Micetro and wins his/her mythic trophy: a runny cheese.
It is with this show launched in November 2010 that he federated the capital’s improvisation community by bringing together every month 12 players from the best Parisian impro groups : Zarbi et Orbi, Les Eux, Les Traits d’Union, Et Cetera, Cavistes et Fromagers, la LIP…The 25th June 2013 was the grand final, the Micetro of Micetros, with Mark as Director and all the Micetros since the shows creation. This wildly entertaining show united the cream of Parisian improvisers in the court of the Espace Beaujon and saw Ludovic Thievon, triple champion, brandish the winner’s camembert for the last time in front of 200 spectators. Mark continues to direct this show in impro festivals and since 2015 the show has been revived in Paris by Again Productions in the Théâtre de Nesle.
Mark Jane, the apostle of Vogler
Beyond Johnstone’s ideas, Mark has also lit the way in France for the concepts of Christopher Vogler, the famous Hollywood script consultant who, through his erudite knowledge of myths and stories from ancient times to modern day, has shed a new light on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”. It was fluke that meant that one day Mark met Vogler at a workshop financed by the AFDAS. His theories were of obvious use for dealing with difficulties in scenarios for the studios in Los Angeles, but applying these ideas to improvisation had never convinced Mark until the day he took Vogler’s workshop.
With Peter Corser on keyboards, Mark attempted to apply the Voglerian stages of the Hero’s journey in a new impro show format: Trio, a single improvised story starring Mark and two members….of the AUDIENCE.
The first night was a revelation and Trio soon founds itself programmed regularly at the Essaion Theatre. Its success is not a surprise, as you cannot find a better format than Trio to illustrate Mark Jane’s performance skills and talent for narration. You need the limitless generosity of Mark and a total absence of judgement to successfully carry two complete beginners through an entire story whilst keeping the whole thing entertaining. In Trio, Mark Jane, through his benevolence, is a true Midas of improvisation, transforming what seem to be the most awful propositions into gold to serve the story. He knows how to use everything that his two partners offer him, no matter how amateur or timid they are: their shyness, their fear, their mistakes, their alarming sincerity, their nervous laughter, their hesitations…By his genius, Mark achieves the Johnstonian ideal by completely abolishing failure and by using every mistake as a reason to laugh even louder.
Trio’s success is such that a workshop dedicated to Vogler, to which all the fans of long form in France flock, is added to the Impro Academy syllabus. In his wake Mark has interested numerous improvisers in the ideas of the master screen writer, and added new reading material to his fans bedside table in the form of “The Writer’s Journey”.
Mark Jane, a much loved improviser
Mark is, for the Parisian community, the incarnation of the finest values of improvisation.
Commitment, as he invests so much into his characters, no matter how ephemeral they are.
Exaltation of his partners on stage. For Mark, the art of improvisation and that of meeting another artist on stage are one. It is strictly the quality of this meeting that creates the true value of a scene. His treatment of his partner’s propositions is totally stripped of all judgement. It is full of generosity that he will reply to your character and make you look good.
For all these qualities, Mark is one of the most loved improvisers in Paris and numerous admiring posts have flourished on social media under the hashtag #MarkJaneFacts the day after his performances.
Many illustrious improvisers who today excite the Parisian impro scene, simply owe him their vocation.
Today Mark continues, with his renowned generosity, to play his role of “Giver”, planting seeds and passing on his passion for improvisation. Few artists in France know better than him how to convince an audience that improvisation is truly an art form and should be respected as such.
Published on Improrama, 24th July 2016 (translated 9th of January 2017)
Shows performed by Mark Jane
Impro à la carte
The Improfessionals Show
Le sens de la vie (solo)
3 guys improvise
Double O impro (James Bond)
The sound of impro (Comédie Musicale)
Attack of the Improfessionals (Science fiction B movie)
Improvised Soap Opera
Slices of Life
Three for all
The last hurrah of the Golden Horde (impro 24h)
The loony bin
When we must part
A midsummer night’s dream
The comedy of errors
As you like it
The way of the world
A woman of no importance
Pile up on the road to Oz
Under the god
Les Éléphants roses
Là-haut, ici, la-bas