It is festival season and last month we were going Excited for Edinburgh Fringe and this month we are going Crazy for Camden Fringe! This month we are talking to acts performing at the festival so you have a strong idea as to what is happening this month in London. Today we are talking to a Improv troupe that is making a name for themselves in London for doing something truly unique with the comedy format. I caught up with Piotr to find out more.

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 07.20.01Name Of Show: Improbotics  – Theatrical Turing Test

Time:6pm and 9pm

Date: 1st August

Location: Hen & Chickens Theatre


Hello Piotr! Tell us about Improbotics and how it all came about?

Improbotics is the culmination of our experimentations with artificial intelligence-based tools for improvised comedy and theatre, that I have been doing with Kory Mathewson, from the Rapid Fire Theatre in Edmonton Alberta. We both believe that one should be able to improvise with anybody or anything, so why not with a robot running AI? And the story is that over two years ago, we independently developed an AI-based chatbot, with speech recognition, dialogue model and text-to-speech, and brought it on stage for live improv shows. Having heard of Kory’s work, I reached out to Kory: we met online, then in person, and started collaborating! We have been experimenting together about the use of an AI wildcard as a crazy and unpredictable scene partner and did many shows remotely (ImproFest UK, Brighton and Camden Fringe), or on the same stage (Edinburgh Fringe)!

During our experiments, we tried a version of the Turing test (a machine is pretending to be “Human”: can an audience of Humans guess whether it is human or not?). And this is how Improbotics was born.

In Improbotics, we have only human actors on the stage, but some of them get their lines fed to them through headphones, and coming either from an AI, or from a human improviser. No matter what the improvisers hear, they need to justify the line physically, emotionally, and make it look seamless. It is a fun challenge, just like the well-known games like Actor’s Nightmare or Pick-a-line.

 

What’s the name of your show this year?

Theatrical Turing Test! We are running an actual scientific experiment, where the audience is the judge: can they correctly guess who is the Cyborg (controlled by the AI, who gives them lines to say), who is the Puppet (remotely controlled by Kory, sending simple improv instructions) and who is merely Human (a normal improviser). It might get tricky to follow who is who, because our improv group is super talented and good at playful deception!

How did you find people to take part in your social experiment show?

We ran auditions in London and created an amazing team of improvisers: Arfie Mansfield, James Whittaker, Julia Eckhoff, Harry Tunrbull, Katherine Murray-Clark, Roel Fos, Sarah Castell, Sarah Davies and Shama Rahman.

And there was of course Jenny Elfving… who flew in from Stockholm for the audition, rehearsals and first performance – we were all shocked – and who created a sister company in Stockholm, called Improbotics AB, assembling her own group and using our AI server for the shows and auditions!

So Jenny runs Improbotics AB Sweden, we are Improbotics Ltd UK, and Kory Mathewson runs Improbotics Inc Canada in Edmonton, Alberta. Improbotics Corp International also has offshore accounts in Panama, but let’s keep that off-the-record.

 

Tell us a little bit about your style of improv?

I personally love grounded and emotionally sincere improv. It can be narrative long-form or fast-paced short-form, but I want it to both feel real and to be challenging, like successfully walking on a tight rope. I love surprising or being surprised, then to justify perfectly, physically, emotionally and plot-wise, what just happened. Having an AI that generates nonsensical lines makes that objective very challenging: and can make all the misunderstandings and inconsistencies hilarious.

 

What will your set be about?

It will be dystopian: technology, religion, and the quest for controlling the human mind!

 

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at the fringe?

Open Roads, directed by Michael Such, playing at the same theatre, and I hope to see City Impro and the Parentheticals who are all excellent!

 

Have you done the fringe before? What have been some of your favourite shows to date and why?

Yes, in 2017! Back then, I loved “Improv, Actually” by the Cambridge Impronauts.

 

Expanding on the ideology of technology and improv – what has your experiment show taught you so far?

Be prepared! Do not improvise with technology, make lists, double-check everything, visit the venue with your equipment weeks in advance. But be ready to improvise around it when it fails. Also, prefer analog to digital when it is relevant (for sound) and never, ever, ever use Bluetooth. It keeps disconnecting at the worst time of your show or rehearsal!

 

Do you see the thought of robots in the future potentially taking over the roles of humans a scary concept or a more soothing one and why?

We go to see live performance to see ourselves, other humans, express themselves and say something true about the human existence and experience. Improv is exciting because it is live and shows human intelligence at its best, overcoming the adversity of the unexpected. So I am definitely not worried about robots taking over the arts, just becoming one more tool for creative humans.

I am actually more worried about humans becoming more like robots: see today’s hyper-engineered and cookie-cutter pop music, or Hollywood productions designed to maximise box office numbers… There is so much honest, independent, truthful art that we miss out on. Come on Humans, you can do better than that!

 

What have been some of the most unique and different comedy shows you have seen this year and why?

DragProv: I discovered them at the ZEAL Improv Festival. Raw intelligence and quick-fire wit for a beautifully sung and fabulous improvised cabaret.

 

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

We have a Twitter account: @Improbotics, a Facebook page @ImproboticsLtd and a website: http://www.improbotics.org

 

And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?

Robotic actor’s nightmare!

 

CAMDEN FRINGE QUICK FIRE ROUND

 

Best thing about performing at the Camden fringe?

I can walk from work to the theatre! And so can my friends and colleagues!

What are your pre show rituals?

We say to each other: “I got your back”.

 

What advice would you give to others who want to perform at Camden Fringe next year?

Plan early, in December, and get your application in as soon as the slots open.

 

What are the best venue’s at the fringe?

Theatres and pub theatres in general 🙂

 

 What are your three favourite things about Camden?

Crowds, quirkiness, friendliness