This month we are welcoming in the new year by celebrating the world of short form improv! All this month we are talking to a number of different improv troupes about their favourite games, advice and also debates that have arisen over time around the comedy form. Today we speak to Newcastle based Short Form Troupe – Spontaneous Wrecks
Hello tell us about your troupe and three fun facts about it!
We are Spontaneous Wrecks, formed in Newcastle five-and-a-bit years ago!
Fun fact 1) We’ve performed at the last four Edinburgh Fringe festivals
Fun fact 2) We love Sir David Attenborough
Fun fact 3) We can count to 3
How did you come up with the name?
It was during a pub discussion over what to call ourselves. Someone – we think our mentor and Suggestible Ian McLaughlin – led us in the direction of Spontanoues Wrecks!
Why did you chose to be a short form troupe?
At the time we formed, short form games were definitely what we were more comfortable and confident in playing. We wanted to be ‘improv comedy in the style of Whose Line Is It Anyway’. As we’ve evolved we have begun to try longer-form things and now love those just as much.
What is your Favourite short form game?
As our second Fun Fact would suggest, ‘Attenborough’ is one we all enjoy. But each of us has our favourites – Dan and Rachael love ‘Alphabet’, for example, but others prefer ‘Experts’ or ‘Meanwhile’!
Best suggestion to be given?
Anything we’ve never heard before!
Worst suggestion to be given?
Our audience has always been pretty good at not giving the ‘typical’ or bad-taste suggestions. We try to go by the method Cariad Lloyd talks about on the ‘Rule Of Three’ podcast: if the joke (and the laugh) is in the suggestion, don’t take it, because the gag’s already been done before you start!
What is the future of short form improv?
The resurgence of ‘Whose Line’ as a live show at the Fringe suggests that people will still pack a room to see it, and a ‘new generation’ of improvisers like Pippa Evans and Rachel Parris joining the legends from the TV show means that it can take on an energy beyond nostalgia.
There is an ongoing debate about Short form improv – a lot of people, especially improvisers are not a fan. Do you think that there is still a place for this sort of comedy and why?
Yes – otherwise we’re out of a job! We find short form is a great ‘way in’ to improv. Short, sharp scenes with easy-to-understand hooks and a big laugh at the end will give you the improv bug … and once you’re bitten, then you can binge-prov on long-form to your heart’s content!
Obviously audiences with non improv backgrounds can relate more to short form but do you think there is going to be a time when these perceptions will change?
Definitely – provided there’s an alternative ‘way in’. Two of our favourite groups (and two of the most successful) are Showstoppers and Austentatious, who use the musical and Jane Austen respectively. You don’t need to have seen improv before to quickly get to grips with their formats – and it helps that they’re world-class improvisers.
What are some of the important aspects of short form that you believe have a stronger element than long form?
With short-form, if something isn’t working or hasn’t quite gone right – it’s only a moment or two until the next game. You can forget your mistakes and just say “again!”
With short form it is all about the pace, what is your advice when you can see a scene is losing its energy and the audience are not responding?
As long as your energy stays at the same high level, it generally works out. Short-form is about playing to the crowd, and if you’re starting to lose them, you can change track quickly and get ‘em right back
Other people argue that short form is hard to create strong characters in a small amount of time – what is your opinion on this?
It can be a challenge – but if you start with a strong character, they can only get stronger. Some of the most impactful characters in all forms of fiction can be those who only appear briefly.
Do you think there are ways you can make short form more challenging for the more advanced improviser?
Using some of the challenges above – like creating an indelible character in a very short space of time, or finding genuine emotion or feeling in just a couple of minutes. For a non-improv example – the Pixar film ‘Inside Out’ has an hour and a half to lead you to crying your eyes out over [spoiler removed], but the short that played before it, ‘Lava’, had a similar effect in five minutes. Now that’s a challenge!
What makes a bad short form scene?
Blocking, shyness, and falling into the trap of being static physically and verbose … well, verbally.
What makes a good one?
Characters, action, and resisting the temptation to go for the gag straight away!
Are there any games that you don’t enjoy playing and why?
Several of us struggle with ‘Accent Coaster’. Mainly because most of us are bad at accents! But there’s been a bit of a change of feeling with that game recently in that audiences may not always take so kindly to attempts to impersonate accents from other cultures or heritages – even if the audience are the ones who suggest it. And we certainly wouldn’t wish to potentially offend anyone by doing so. It’s an interesting topic to consider.
Do you think Short form works better when the audience is more involved?
Definitely – it’s all about them!
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
We’ve had so many. But one that sticks out was a chance conversation with Abandoman, who helped form the idea of our ‘Picture This’ show which is now our kids-and-families format.
Quick Fire Questions
Which member of your team is the most likely to:
Laugh mid scene?
Matt – usually when he’s just about to kiss Casey!
Create a great character?
Rachael – she once played a spider who, when she sacrificed herself for love, got a huge gasp from the audience. They sympathised with a spider!
Sing an improvised song?
Jon – once he was terrified of singing on stage, now he can’t get enough!
Pretend to eat on stage?
Geoff – he likes playing ‘Attenborough’ and that often involves an improvised meal.
Become an animal in a scene?
Probably Casey – he’s played all sorts, including ‘the entire life cycle of a chicken’!
Create the silliest line in a scene?
Kate – she has an incredible imaginative mind!
Dance on stage?
Definitely Jenni – our musical maestro and all-round cabaret superstar.
Commit to object work?
Michael! The physical side of improv can be really tricky but he always gets it just right.
Make a reference to a film or tv show?
That’d be Dan – so … many … references …
Talk to the audience and break the fourth wall?
Anna – in fact, we turned this into a monologue game called ‘Annalogues’!