Will Luera’s performance at the Tokyo Improv Festival in 2010 opened with flashing lights, a cheering crowd and a Japanese announcer who quickly translated every word into a cacophonous blur of sound that served as a second-hand rendition of the performance for a predominantly non-English-speaking audience. But Will Luera, Florida Studio Theatre’s director of improve, didn’t skip a beat—even with that odd combination of elements.
Luera, formerly the artistic director of ImprovBoston, began performing improv abroad in 2003, when he visited Puerto Rico as part of a Spanish-language world improvisation championship. A bilingual actor with more than two decades of professional improv experience, Luera jumped at the chance to bring his knowledge to Latin America. He and his team were one of the first American improv teams to travel internationally, translating the witticisms and fast-paced dialogue of American-style improv for an international audience.
“The experience taught me that there are vibrant and active improv communities in Chile, in Spain, in Mexico, and they’re all just as good, dynamic and unique as American improv,” Luera says.
Now, more than 10 years later, Luera regularly travels to places like Japan, China, London, Saudi Arabia, Montreal, Amsterdam, Latvia, Toronto and Paris to teach and perform improv.
In working in such a large range of places—each with their own unique linguistic, cultural and societal norms and expectations—Luera has learned to carefully avoid touchy topics or breach unspoken cultural rules in each country he teaches or performs in.
“There are definitely debriefings that we do before we go, where I’ll speak to my main contact and we’ll take a moment to talk about what we can and cannot make fun of,” Luera explains. “For example, in China, the producer said stay away from what they call the three T’s: Taiwan, Tiananmen or Tibet.”
In addition to navigating the complex web of cultural differences, Luera has also had to adopt his performance style for different international audiences.
“Our very first show in Puerto Rico, we were getting zero response from the audience,” Luera says. “So we started to watch other people perform after us, and we learned that American improv tends to be a lot of people just standing and talking and being witty, whereas international improv—and, specifically, Latin American improvisation—is very physical, very expressive, a lot of object work, a lot of facial reactions.” So Luera and his team made some changes for their next performance. “We were like ‘Be big! Every character is huge! Be an animal! Be talking animals!,’ and we got humongous response from the audience,” he says.
Along with teaching and performing internationally, Luera is responsible for teaching improv and acting classes to both teens and adults, directing the FST improv troop and organizing improv workshops and events here in Sarasota. One of these events, the annual FST improv festival, will take place July 12-14. Consisting of three days of workshops, performances and events, the SRQ Improv Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with three headlining performances by improv troupes Baby Wants Candy, Impro Madrid and Impro Theatre.
For more information about the festival, including pass availability and pricing, call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.