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Originally published Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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International improv fest brings global laughs to Seattle June 13-17

Unexpected Productions stages its 16th annual International Festival of Improv, featuring improvisers from across the globe, in Seattle June 13-17, 2012.

Special to The Seattle Times

PERFORMANCE PREVIEW

International Festival of Improv

Opens 8:30 p.m. Wednesday; continues with performances at 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday; International Theatresports at 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Unexpected Productions, 1428 Post Alley, Seattle; $15-$30 (800-838-3000 or www.brownpapertickets.com).
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Improv doesn't have to make you laugh.

That might sound strange for a country weaned on sketch comedy and "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," but in many parts of the world, improvisational theater seeks to tell stories rather than get laughs, said Ju{scaron} Milcinski, a semiprofessional improviser from Ljubljana, Slovenia.

"In Europe, people try to take improv more as art than as entertainment," he said.

Of course, it can be funny, too, and it often is.

This week, Unexpected Productions' 16th annual International Festival of Improv brings together improvisers from Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United States for a series of workshops and performances in the Seattle company's Post Alley theater.

Each night of the festival offers a unique presentation, including Thursday's "Translation," a multilingual show where actors speak in their native tongues, and Friday's "Word Made Flesh," where improvisers compose scenes inspired by audience members' scars and other body markings. Unexpected Productions will also stage its regular theatresports shows, with an international twist.

Randy Dixon, the artistic director and the festival's founder, said this year's event is enveloped in the theme of wabi-sabi, a Japanese term that roughly means an appreciation for the impermanent and imperfect things in life — apt to describe spontaneous theater.

"It's this idea of appreciating things because they're not going to be here forever and appreciating the individual aspects of something," he said. "The easiest way I've found to describe it is when you buy a car, it's like many others — and as soon as you dent the fender, it's your car."

One of the draws of the festival is the chance to observe contrasting styles of improv from around the world. In the United States, Dixon noted, improv is very verbal, while elsewhere it relies more on physicality and less on dialogue.

Zurich, Switzerland, improviser Gerald Weber performed in last year's festival and returns this week. As an improviser, he said, he enjoys that his job isn't solely as an actor: Performers take on the role of screenwriter and director, as well.

Weber found last year's "Translation" portion particularly inspirational.

"If I'm in a scene with a Japanese girl, and I don't speak a single word of Japanese and she doesn't speak a single word of German, you create the scene with only emotional expression," he said. "I think it translates to an audience well because you're focused on 'How do I say something?' rather than 'What did I actually say?' It becomes rawer, and I think that is very powerful."

With that exposure to different languages, cultures and styles, Dixon said, the festival becomes a sampler of world improv.

"I think for the audience it's a treat to see these people side by side," Dixon said.

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