Although improv comedy creates unexpected moments by nature, adding hypnosis into the mix makes it even more unpredictable.
Colin Mochrie from Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and Asad Mecci, a master hypnotist, will bring that twist on the format to Chatham and Windsor this month with a live performance called Hyprov: Improv Under Hypnosis.
Mecci will invite 20 audience members on stage and assess them to find the five or six people best subjects, who will then be hypnotized into situations to improvise with Mochrie.
“A big part of improv is trust, so I have to build up this immediate trust with five people I have never met before who are in a hypnotic trance,” said Mochrie. “You just never know what’s going to happen, even more so than any improv show.”
Working with other professionals also allowed him to pass on the control of the scene to other performers, but he doesn’t have that luxury this time, he said.
“I sort of have to keep being in charge,” said Mochrie. “It really keeps me on my toes and I think it actually has made me a better improviser.”
Mecci said he got the idea while taking improv classes at Second City in Toronto a few years ago. The instructors wanted to train their students so all of their improvisations would be “knee-jerk reactions,” he said.
He then understood how improvisation is about tapping into the unconscious mind.
“I realized what they were doing in all these warm-up exercises and they were trying to move the conscious mind aside and get unconscious functioning,” said Mecci.
“I thought to myself … could I hypnotize somebody who doesn’t have experience in improv and make them improvisers, and so far the answer has been a resounding yes.”
Mecci decided to send an email to Mochrie’s manager and eventually they started holding a few performances before turning it into a full tour.
Mochrie said initially they were not sure what they could ask the volunteers to do.
“First-time improvisers, they are their own worst enemies because they’re constantly thinking and with the people in the hypnotic state, they’re just open to everything we say,” he said. “They’re actually improvising purely. They’re responding to what I give them. They’re responding to the situation that Asad is reinforcing.”
The volunteers are chosen based on factors like their breathing changes, their skin tone changes, the tearing up of their eyes and their nasal dilation, said Mecci.
Mochrie said Mecci’s hypnosis “reinforces” the situations they are put in on stage. Sometimes he’ll sing a duet with them or one of them will have to propose to him, he said.
“And then I’ll throw in twists every once in a while,” Mecci added. “I’ll turn the scene into a slow-motion scene for example and give them the suggestion … that if they to propose to Colin, they can only propose to him while Colin is seated. It forces them to carry out a specific suggestion.”
Every night ends up being weird, the duo said.
Mochrie said he’s fascinated by how the volunteers always say they’ve been aware of what’s happening the entire time.
“From the audience, as you’re watching, it looks like they’re sleeping on stage, but they’re listening to everything and it amazes me that they’re bring back something that happened two scenes ago and becomes a running joke,” he said.
“They’re observably asleep, just so we’re clear,” added Mecci. “They look like they’re asleep. Physiologically their bodies are relaxed, but their mind is completely alert.”
The format of the events will feature different games in a similar style to Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but something like the prop game is too complicated for someone under hypnosis, Mochrie said.
“We’re still actually figuring out what we can do with them,” he said. “Sometimes they surprise us by they can do more complicated things, but we’re still working on that.”
Mecci said each person can reach a different “depth of trance” and they don’t always get a “perfect subject” who can be made to believe a chair will disappear at the count of three, for example.
They start with “basic experiments” and build up to a “radio play” where the volunteer morphs into different characters for Mochrie to interact with.
“You’re getting some incredible improv from these people who have virtually zero to no improv experience,” said Mecci. “It’s absolutely fascinating to watch as we sort of progress through the show.”
Mochrie said improv comedy should be very easy because it’s about listening and building off of other people’s ideas, but people often want to put out their own ideas. This show “gets rid of all those blocks that stop people from being great improvisers,” he said.