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Walking the boards and making it up as you go

A brand-new improvisation group is looking for actors and hopes one day to perform in city pubs, reports Sam Riley.

When Shanghai's newest theater group rehearses, no one has learned their lines and there isn't a script of the play in sight. These actors are making up their lines as they go in a fresh improvisation theater group.

The 12 actors met last week for the first time and they're looking for more like-minded folks who want to develop their acting skills.

The group is part of a new theater organization Zuloo Theatre Productions, which recently held a Cinderella pantomime that raised 35,000 yuan (US$5,119) for charity.

Zuloo was started in Scotland by three St Andrew's University students, and one of its co-founders, Zsuzsi Lindsay, restarted the group when she moved to Shanghai.

Over its four years in Scotland, Zuloo staged successful productions with the aim of giving back to the community, having fun and providing an opportunity for everyone interested in theater to have a go.

Lindsay says she hopes the new improvisation group will eventually perform in pubs around Shanghai.

Improvisation is a key building block in acting skills and can be developed using a number of basic exercises, Lindsay says.

"Improvisation is making up a play as you go and it doesn't always have to be funny, because people sometimes worry about that."

People who have seen "Whose line is it, Anyway?" or a comedian improvising may be nervous, but this is the most basic form of theater, she says. It's the art form that's essential to have before an actor moves onto scripted plays.

"It is about understanding the development of a story and being confident enough to push one's boundaries."

The group is open to locals and expats and all levels of acting experience. The group's first meeting drew first-time actors and people with more than 15 years' stage experience. There were Chinese with beginners' English-language skills.

Workshops are held mostly in English but all levels of ability are welcome.

"Our long-term aim is to involve more people whose first language is not English and use theater as a way to improve their language ability and their confidence in speaking English," says Lindsay.

The theater group aims to increase cooperation in the community and support people in their artistic drives.

Lindsay and her partner Simon Kingsnorth moved out to Shanghai a year ago and resurrected Zuloo Productions in Shanghai. The group is non-profit, two-thirds of the money raised go to charity and the remainder funds new productions.

Zuloo in Scotland was staging four productions a year, culminating in its first professional show in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Lindsay has directed and acted since she was in high school; she studied theater production at university.

"We want to foster artistic innovation and give people a go at whatever they want to do," she says.

Zuloo also would like to cooperate with international schools and the wider community in staging productions like Cinderella.

"Eventually, we would like to cooperate with other theater groups in Shanghai so we can make the scene bigger and more exciting."

Zuloo is organizing a one-act play festival in late April. A group from Qingdao, Shandong Province, will perform in the showcase of 15-minute plays.

Everyone is welcome. The group is seeking actors, directors and writers for the festival.

Anyone interested in Zuloo Productions can visit their Website at or contact them via e-mail at


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