The Hot Cat Club is a small bar/club hidden deep within a series of old “hutong(胡同)” alleyways not far from the Buddhist Lama Temple in Beijing. I went there to spend an hour or two at an improv workshop being held by Improv Beijing, and arrived 10 minutes before the start time to find the place deserted. I asked a tired-looking man nearby if there was a workshop tonight. “I don’t know, man,” he said. “I just came here to drink.” This inauspicious beginning to the evening proved to be a false indicator of the night to come, as Beijing time dictates that people come whenever they want to and never early. By the time eight o’clock rolled around, the tiny club was packed to the gills with improvers, mostly Chinese, and comedians of all sorts. Forty people packed into a tight circle for warmups and soon sounds were flying and bodies moving.
The energy of the improv scene in Beijing seems to me like a tsunami wave, growing stronger and broader, largely unseen, beneath seemingly still waters. When I left China last year, I knew of two troupes, an English language troupe and a bilingual one. Now, at one night’s meeting, I counted representatives from seven groups, which included all-Chinese language performance troupes, and an all female troupe. To me, the fact that new troupes are emerging, each exploring its own style of comedy, shows a real maturing of the comedy scene here. People are doing the type of improv they want to do, no longer bottlenecked by inability to access new styles or forms. The increasing diversity of the scene was summed up by a new friend I met named Zeng Cheng, who goes by the English name Caesar. “There are so many people here who want to do improv,” he said. “So there are new troupes being created all the time. We’re not all good, but we want to perform, and starting a troupe is free. This way, we all get to practice more, and we slowly get better.” [Read More…]