Improv Corner – CAMDEN FRINGE SPECIAL EDITION – Six Ways Improv Is Like A Road Trip…

We have a very special treat for you! With Camden Fringe starting this week it is only right that we bring you a very special article written by a member of an improv troupe that are performing at the festival. Meet Carla Keen, she is an improviser that is appearing with the group Open Roads and we will have an exclusive interview with them later in the week when we officially launch Camden Fringe Month!

Carla Keen is an improviser based in Cambridge, UK. She regularly produces and performs shows with The Ministry of Unplanned Occurrences, who favour a characterful and dramatic flavour of improv. If her improv was a car, it would probably be a souped-up VW Beetle. 

Ditching The Sat Nav: Six Ways Improv is like a road trip

People often say, “it is better to travel than to arrive” and rehearsing for a show which is an improvised road trip reminds me that improv is the most journey-like of artforms – in every show you are watching the artistic process – and that’s part of the entertainment. You get to watch the creative act and see every part of it play out in front of you (including those joyful moments when an improviser realises they are in trouble…)

Thinking about it further, I enjoyed the metaphor so much I decided to write an article about it. So, here are six ways improv is like a road trip.


It’s often the unexpected that provides the most delight

Think back to your last holiday – what was it that you enjoyed the most? Chances are it was something you didn’t expect that provided the most anecdotes or delight. On my last holiday I visited Pompeii, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, which were all beautiful. However, the thing I enjoyed the most, oddly, was stumbling on an old paper mill where I got to make my own paper.

This happens in improv too. Someone mispronounces a word, or comes out with something from the top of their head that lights the fire of the rest of the group and gives them something joyful to run with – something completely unexpected but completely delightful.


It’s about the passengers you travel with

On a road trip, you don’t want to spend all day in car with people you can’t stand (although it has great dramatic potential), similarly, it’s the bond between your improv buddies that makes a show work. Furthermore, a road trip or improv show will mean you become closer.

When watching improv, the audience enjoy seeing the connection and chemistry between players, and it’s also that which enables you to take the biggest risks. People often ask, “how do you rehearse an improv show?” and the answer is you spend a lot of time getting to know each other and learning what each other’s quirks are.

Both road trips and improv rehearsals bond you. I made my best friends through improv, and we happily spend time together playing board games, watching football, or putting on a show…


There are many vehicles you can travel in

On a road trip we usually have some choice over the vehicle we drive, from a huge Corvette for a coast-to-coast US road trip, to a tiny Nissan Micra to drive you to Nijmegen for your first romantic getaway (true story).

Similarly, there are a huge amount of styles of improv to choose for your creative journey, from the dramatic designed to make your heart ache for the characters, to extremely silly short-form to make you belly laugh –  there are so many genres of improv to play.


There are a million possible journeys

There are so many choices we make on a road trip –  even if you know where you are starting and where you are going to. From the mundane of which roads to use or which snacks to take, to the more adventurous “do we pick up that hitchhiker on the way to Edinburgh?” (also a true story).

In the same way, there are so many choices in an improv scene. However, there is something hugely liberating in knowing that whatever choice you take, it will be right, if you are happy that you might not end in the place you expected to be.


You can prepare, but it still might not go as planned

You might have plotted your route on paper, put it in your Sat Nav and have Google Maps on, but if the times comes and you miss a turning, get distracted by a very attractive pedestrian (as happened on a trip to Bedford Fringe on Sunday), or just want to go a more scenic route, all the planning goes figuratively out of the window and you need to rely on what you have in front of you, in the moment.

However, if you have prepared well, you can deal with diversions. A lot of improv rehearsals are about practising navigation so you know how to deal with situations like a tricky audience offer, a block from another player, or your mind going blank, and still making it look like an effortless journey.


It’s about enjoying the journey not the destination

I’m going to quote improv guru David Razowsky who says about improv, “stop being on your way to somewhere”. A weird one to quote in a blog about road trips, but the point he is making is that we should be present exactly we are and enjoy the creative journey or the process, rather than continuously looking towards achieving a result.

A road trip is not about where you are going, but where you are right now. Look out the window, breathe the air, notice your passenger, hear them – and forget about the fact that you are on the way to Newcastle to meet your ex-husband. That way lies the best improv –  and the most liberating road trip.

Open Roads is an improvised road trip movie based on suggestions from the audience for the sound track. It is on at the Hen & Chickens, Islington from 29 July to 2 August at 7:30pm.

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