This month I chatted to over 30 female improvisers from all over the UK to celebrate the talent that we have – we also discuss some of the important debates surrounding this topic as well. Today I talk to an improviser that is part of Buffet Improv, Acaprov and even a new Hoopla House Team – Sabrina Luisi
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
I’m Sabrina! 3 random facts – I recently competed a list of 30 before 30 challenges, which included climbing Big Ben, going on a gameshow and eating only triangular foods for a day!
How did you get into improv?
I had some feedback in a work appraisal that I needed to get better at dealing with ambiguity if I wanted to progress into a leadership role. So I thought of the most ambiguous situation I could find for myself, and decided to get on a stage and not know what I would say, what my team mates would say or what the audience would say! That was three years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What inspired you to start improv?
I saw a short form group called Shoot from the Hip and they looked like they were having so much fun on stage, I wanted to give it a go too.
What troupes are you are a part of?
I’m in Buffet Improv (long form), Acaprov (improvised acapella musical), Multiverse (improvised split narrative musical), Play Dead London (immersive murder mystery) and have recently been selected for the new Hoopla House Team.
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?
I was blown away the first time I saw Showstoppers and I find musical improv fascinating to watch and do.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
I love watching Maria Peters and Lauren Shearing im Breaking and Entering. They build believable characters, have great physicality and clearly love being on stage together. They also champion women in improv and their all female improv night, The Playground, is my favourite show to watch.
I have read many articles around the debate that it is harder to be a woman in improv – what are your thoughts on this and why?
Generally I have found improv to be a very inclusive environment and the troupes and classes I have been involved in have been very welcoming. I think Hoopla plays a huge part in this, setting the expectation right at the outset of any classes that everyone is welcome. I would love to see more guidance around how to play different genders on stage, without relying on stereotypes and tropes.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
‘Make your scene partner look good, and the whole show will look good’. I love how much of a team activity improv is, and how by making each other look good, we lift the entire show. I find this so impressive when I see it happening in jams – complete strangers 100% committed to making their scene partner look good is improv magic at its best.
Do you find that being a female in an improv show that the suggestions you can get are traditional and stereotypical? How do you feel when you get given these?
For a while, I realised I was self-endowing with stereotypical female roles. I would often play the love-struck woman whose entire character arc revolves around getting the guy. I’ve thought about why I had a habit of doing that, and I think it’s because it was a role I felt safe in because I knew what it looked like, the audience knew that character and it was easy to harvest cheap laughs. Once I realised I was doing it, I asked my home team (Buffet) to call me out on it whenever I did it in a rehearsal or a show.
Since then, I’ve stopped defaulting to this stock character and have enjoyed creating new and more interesting characters on stage. Love is always a great motivation to play on stage, but it doesn’t always have to be romantic love and I’ve found some of my best scenes have been where I’ve played the best friend, grandmother or child of a protagonist. Being aware of my natural ‘fallback’ characters has really helped with this, although I do default to ‘old Yorkshire woman’ whenever I feel nervous on stage!
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
I will never forget the buzz of Buffet’s first ever show! We debuted a format we had created, called Wildcard, and we had no idea if it would work or how we would gel as a team on stage. The show went really well and we were all high on joy and laughter afterwards! We’re often told that we look like we’re having a great time on stage, and I think it stems from how we approach our rehearsals and stage time as a chance to have fun with each other and make each other look good. I also love the moment in improvised musicals where the troop deliver the first chorus of an opening number and you can see the audience collectively let out a sigh of relief as they realise ‘ok, they really can make a song up on the spot, the next hour will be fine’.
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Really listen to your stage partner. The punchline in your head will never be the right one, because you’ve written it in response to what you think your scene partner will say, not what they are actually saying. Listen and the laughter will come naturally.
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
1. Emotionally connected scenes. Chris Mead is fantastic at this and has a knack for always making it matter. I would love to get better at this.
2. Making the most of the stage! I set myself personal challenges to hit all four corners of the stage during a show and to have different levels (sitting, standing, kneeling). In real life, people rarely stand face to face having a conversation, and I love watching improv with movement – it’s much more interesting.
3. Creating new characters. I have recognised I have a tendency to fallback on certain characters and I’d love to build my confidence in creating new ones. Susan Harrison is an incredible character builder because she commits everything to the character through her physicality, facial expressions and accents. Every time she steps on stage, I’m excited to see which character she will create and it makes her an infinitely interesting and impressive improviser to watch.
What is the future of improv?
Great question! I have only been in the community for three years but in that time I’ve seen an explosion of new teams and new ideas, which is so exciting. I think there is a trend at the minute towards people embracing new styles and sharing them with others – for example Track 96 (improvised hip hop) recently ran free workshops, which brought together different people interested to learn a new skill. I also see lots of people who are in multiple groups or regularly guest with different groups, which I think is a great way of sharing ideas. If we adopt the principle of ‘make each other look good’ offstage as well as on stage, then everyone gets to level up!