Show of the Week – INTERVIEW – Dark Matters Improv, The Horse and Stables

Today we talk to an improv group that has a show concept that is like no other and I think it is easy to say right now that you more then likely haven’t seen an improv show like this before. Dark Matters Improv don’t just created improv they also create a unique spin on the form by bringing in the world of shadow puppetry! I caught up with Martin Sears to find out more about the show that they are bringing this week to the C3? evening at the Horse and Stables on the 8th of April.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 15.48.33Hello Martin, tell us about Dark Matters Improv and a little bit about yourselves?

I love how the unique thing about Dark Matters is easily summed up in 3 words: Shadow Puppet Improv! We have a homemade screen, a homemade lightbox, and a boxful of cardboard character puppets and scenery (also homemade) which we use to project shadows onto the screen from behind.

From an audience suggestion, a series of scenes unfold which might be dark, poignant, or very possibly a bit daft. We’re a fairly new group, made up of Nadine Bailey, Miriam Hall, Sarim Irfan and Martin Sears (that’s me!)

How did you come up with the show concept?

Nadine and I were having lunch together last September, discussing the Hoopla Improv Marathon which was to take place the following month. This was a 50-hour event over a whole weekend of non-stop improv shows at The Miller in London Bridge. We knew we wanted to take part, so we were brainstorming ideas we wanted to try out.

Hoopla legend Steve Roe had requested that people experiment with crazy and fun ideas rather than use it as an opportunity to do serious long-form theatre, so we were thinking of random outside-the-box stuff. Nadine first mentioned shadow puppets. I thought it sounded cool as I haven’t seen improvised shadow puppets before, and I love shows that offer something a bit different. Myself and Nadine are also both into arts and crafts, and liked the idea of puppet-making afternoons. I thought of the title Dark Matters, and we developed it from there.

I have to say I was a bit sceptical that we could make it work at first, but thankfully Nadine persuaded me to give it a try, and I was totally won over when I saw our puppets projected on the screen for the first time.

Tell us a little bit about the show that is happening on the 8th of April – who is appearing?

The show is C3 Sundays, a weekly show run by C3Something at The Horse and Stables in Lambeth North. We don’t know who else will be performing yet, but they always have a great mix of acts. We’re chuffed to be a part of it.

How do you come up with characters and scene work to make for the show? Who makes them and how?

We use black card cut outs, in the shape of various fantastical characters that we thought might be visually interesting and make for some fun stories. These include things like wizard, mermaid, dinosaur, girl, boy, robot, and of course, giant octopus monster. Most of these have moving parts which pivot on split pins, controlled by a stick which moves up and down inside a straw.

Since the initial show at the Hoopla Marathon (which got a lovely response from people who saw it), we have made loads more characters and also some scenery frames which fit onto the lightbox to suggest different settings such as a forest, castle or underwater.

What makes Dark Matters so unique as a show?

We think most people will not have seen anything like this before. Visually it obviously looks very different from an average improv show, and it’s nice to mix the spontaneous, fun mischievous world of improv with the artsy craftsy world of Shadow puppets. Some shadow puppet shows, while they may look great, can be a bit inaccessible to a regular audience, and perhaps a bit tedious to sit through after a while if it’s taken too seriously. We hope ours is a bit more fun.

What sort of style of improv happens at Dark Matters? Do you always do the same format?

In Dark Matters, we like to look at themes that are bit magical, fantastical or paranormal. In terms of a structure, we have one person being the narrator at the front, two puppeteers behind the screen, and someone controlling the lightbox and changing the scenes over. It’s definitely a 4 person show – less or more and it wouldn’t really work. The narrator gets a suggestion from the audience at the beginning which informs the title. From this, the puppeteers choose which characters they think will be most apt to use, and then quickly try and find them in our alphabetically filed puppet box – which can be tricky in the dark!

In a 15-20 minute set we will do a few scenes which start off standalone but will ideally link up / cross over in some way, either thematically or making a little mini story.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 15.48.16

If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?

You can follow us @DarkMattersImprov on Facebook to find out about upcoming shows.

What do you think 2018 holds for the world of improv – what would you like to see happen in the next 12 months?

Hopefully we’ll see loads more opportunities for new and upcoming acts to have performing experience. 2017 already saw a lot more of that compared to previous years, so it’s encouraging. There’s some really cool and innovative new stuff I’ve seen that deserves more exposure. I also very much look forward to the next Hoopla Improv Marathon later this year.

And Finally – in three words, why should people come and see Dark Matters at the The Horse and Stables?

Shadow Puppets kissing (not guaranteed in every show, but if it crops up it’s pretty funny to see!)


Favourite sitcom?

Recently… PhoneShop, or People Just Do Nothing

Favourite comedian?

Improv-wise, probably Ruth Bratt. My next improv course is being taught by her and I’m rather excited.

Favourite short form game to play in improv?

Character Swap – two people perform a scene and at any point the audience can shout SWAP, and the improvisers have to swap places and take on each others’ roles.

The last thing you liked on social media?

Buffet Improv – a great new act that mix longform games with a longform narrative.

What would your autobiography be called?

I’m not sure but it would no doubt involve a pun.

What is your favourite joke?

I went to the doctor to find out why I have an irrational fear of people with no digits on their feet. Turns out I’m lack toes intolerant.

Improv group you would love to collaborate with?

Buffet. Or the Showstoppers. Whoever invites us to collaborate first 🙂

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