A fancy hotel in Switzerland

I went to Switzerland last week to do some corporate entertainment. It was a paid gig, and I’m all in favour of those, and it was a surreal experience in the dark heart of European marketing, and I’m also in favour of those.

So even though it wasn’t the most artistically rewarding, and I was in Switzerland but saw precious little of it, it was still a win-win.

The days were incredibly long, the surroundings ostentatiously plush and the whole concept (for the show/presentation) was ‘just crazy enough to work’. And it did – but there were many tense moments when the whole thing could have collapsed.

It wasn’t an improv show. We were part of an interactive powerpoint presentation and unveiling of a new marketing campaign, the goal of which was to encourage people to behave more thoughtfully, and generously; to be civil and try and be the best they can be, much like this song does.

We were hired to present what on one hand is a calculated marketing ploy, but on the other is a sincere plea to persuade people to be more civil – to help tourists, push a stalled car, buy a coffee for the person behind you in line and so on. To have your comportment hark back to a simpler, more civil time, when men would doff their top hats when a lady passed, and parlours were filled with sparkling conversation and pipe smoke.

So even though the client company sells a product that I don’t think is very good for people – and medical science agrees with me, and even though I was behind the scenes working on the event, I genuinely walked away from the experience a victim of the marketing strategy I helped deliver; inspired to be more civil, to help people out, and bring my best out as best I can.

Pro Improv Irony

As I was sitting in the lavish hotel boardroom in my custom top hat, eating fancy sandwiches and waiting for the meeting room to be prepared, I started thinking about the ‘inherent irony of being a professional improviser’. It’s this:

Corporate shows can be an important (and lucrative) part of trying to make a living as an improviser. But you don’t always feel as if you are making a living as a creative being when you’re working an occasion like this; it’s hard to feel like an ‘artist’ when you’re trying to sneak marketing jargon into a show for a roomful of marketers. For example.

Sample lines of dialogue from the show:

Describing a new packaging concept: “It’s a really contemporary offer.”
Referring to the founder’s legendary sophistication: “It’s an attribute he shared with his wife, Margo.”

Not the kind of lines that roll off the tongue.

So no, the show wasn’t a high note creatively. But it was definitely work (which is important), and it was, thanks to the surreality of the surroundings, and the magnanimous content of the pitch, fun and weirdly inspiring.

Consider my best brought out.