Improvising with Preeti Singh

Preeti and I first met at an Improv Comedy Mumbai (ICM) practice back in 2014. At first interaction, Preeti came across as someone who used sarcasm as her way of humor. But it turned out that was just the way she spoke. On stage, I enjoy the slow paced Improv she invests attention into the eventual punchy dialogue she'd deliver.

I caught up with her and found out about how improv has impacted her life.

Q1. Tell us about the start of your improv journey. Where and how did it all begin?

A: I was working as a scriptwriter for a travel channel, where, besides sitting at my desk and scripting, I used to entertain people with my dramebaazi and funnies. The graphic designer there, Rakesh Shituit, had heard of Improv Comedy Mumbai’s Improv workshops through his friend and thought I would do well in it. I owe it to him because after that I reached out to Shaun Williams, who trained me on the basics of improv. I then started attending informal improv jams called “Playground” where I met Adam Dow. I did the Level 2 Improv course under Adam’s guidance, during which he absorbed me into the ensemble cast of Improv Comedy Mumbai in 2014. Things moved fast so that I realized I was a good fit as a comedic performer.

Q2. What’s been the most exciting thing through all these years of you doing improv?

A: The most exciting thing about doing improv has been rediscovering myself. I was an entertainer in school too and loved acting, being different people by doing impressions of teachers and making people laugh. If we had free lectures or a little extra time during school, I spent it by entertaining classmates with my antics. Discovering improv so many years later was like revisiting my childhood and realizing that nothing had changed. I felt I had come back home to my core calling. Prior to becoming an improviser I was already an RJ and dub artiste - so I was a faceless voice. Improv gave me visibility and made me realize that I work well as a stage performer too. It helped me shed my self-consciousness completely and when I realized I can generate laughs, I felt nothing could beat that feeling. The international improv festivals that I have been fortunate enough to attend so far - The Seattle Improv Festival in 2015, ITI Conference and Dubai Impro Fringe 2017 and Improvaganza 2018 - is, ofcourse, like icing on the cake. True to the beauty of improv, I stumbled upon it unplanned and that is so amazing!

Q3. You have been working in radio as a radio jockey for many years altogether now, even before you started doing improv. Is there a difference you’ve seen in your radio skills before and after you took up improv ?

A: Yes I have been a bilingual (English and Hindi) radio jockey at All India Radio and I still host shows occasionally. Post improv, I have become even more comfortable going live on air unscripted and there’s a greater sense of ease and a fearlessness. Improv is empowering in that it makes you trust your abilities to be able to take care of yourself when you are not prepared and don’t know what comes next. You become okay with making mistakes and you become good at being able to adapt and turn your goof-ups into winning moments

Q4. I know that you are also a teacher of the theatre for kids in a school in Mumbai. Are there any learnings of improv you have manifested in your classes there and taught the kids too?

A: Yes I was a Middle School Speech and Drama teacher at the J.B.Petit High School for Girls for two years till 2016 and currently I conduct private classes for kids when time permits. Improv has been a potent influence in my lesson plans because improv games combine so many life skills - team building, spontaneity, imagination, creativity, observation. There’s so much play in improv that not surprisingly, kids loved the classes in which I adapted or played improv games like corridors, helping hands etc with them.

Q5. You traveled to Canada to attend an improv festival there. How did that go? Plus, there was also a Bollywood dance workshop you had taken. Tell us about that too.

A: Matt Schuurman, the Artistic Director at Rapid Fire Theatre, Edmonton saw me perform at the ITI Conference and Dubai Impro Fringe 2017. He liked what he saw and invited me to be part of the world ensemble cast that would perform at their annual festival, Improvaganza 2018. The fest featured the likes of Colin Mochrie and Greg Proops. I was the first Indian to be invited to this fest. I was delighted and honoured. I felt like a heroine who had just been "discovered" by a big filmmaker.

It was a dream tour! I trained under Jill Bernard and Mike Kennard, who navigated us through a beautiful session on silent improv - quite a challenge for a vocal- dependent performers like me. I brought my crazy shrink character, Dr. Bela on stage for the first time at a sketch show there and people loved her. I met some wonderful performers and the theatre spaces there were beautiful. I conducted a Bollywood dance workshop for the festival participants - I made them dance to a 'Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya’ song “D se dance” - and boy oh boy, they picked up the Bollywood rhythm in a matter of two hours and were rocking it like Govinda and Madhuri Dixit by the end of it. I was super impressed. We all had a blast.

Q6. If you had to tell someone what your strength in improv is, what would it be?

A: My strength in improv is my ability to play a range of interesting characters - many inspired from my daily local train commute, relatives and people I’ve interacted with all these years. I love observing and being different people on stage. People intrigue me. I also see things differently and am told my responses are quirky and witty - I am able to see the weird and funny in most of life’s situations so I guess that works well for comedy :)

Q7. What can we look forward to from Preeti Singh’s 2019 Improv calendar?

A: Well, it’s work in progress. But this year, I hope to attend some more international improv festivals, learn more and hone my craft further. I will be part of more long-form improv format shows, besides short form improv shows. I am also working on plays and solo character stand up acts.

Preeti Singh

Preeti Singh is a voice actor and comic who lives and works in India’s entertainment capital, Mumbai. She started her career as a writer for magazines and TV. She then moved on to the voicing industry - becoming an RJ at All India Radio and dubbing for series and movies. More recently she embraced her childhood love for comedy and theatre by becoming an improviser and comic performer. She was the first Indian performer to be invited to perform at Rapid Fire Theatre, Edmonton’s prestigious festival, Improvaganza, which saw the likes of Colin Mochrie and Greg Proops. She has enthralled audiences in India and abroad and is loved for her quirky wit and heart-warming character portrayals.

Get in touch with Preeti through her instagram account here.

This interview has been curated and edited by Nasir Engineer. Nasir is the Artistic Director of ICB (