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 London based Short Form Troupe – City Impro
Hello tell us about your troupe and three fun facts about it!
We are City Impro and we are a short form team that formed 6 and half years ago after a Hoopla course. Our three facts are:
– We’ve put on 194 of our own shows (yes we have a spreadsheet keeping count!)
– We once played on the roof of a café at the Olympic Park.
– Our current line-up is the first time in our history we’ve not had two people with the same first name on the team.
How did you come up with the name?
When we started the group we were all working in the City of London so used that for the “City” part. The “Impro” part was because we wanted our name to reflect we were an improv group and we liked the way “Impro” sounded rather than “Improv”.
Why did you chose to be a short form troupe?
The original members of the troupe were a combination of people who’d met on a Hoopla short-form course and some other people we knew through other courses. At the time there were very few short-form groups in London and we thought there was a gap we could fill with a fast and snappy style – even today it surprises us how few short-form groups there are that perform regularly in London.
What is your Favourite short form game?
Our favourite games change over time, but at the moment it’s Interview Switch – a game where you have an interviewer and expert with the subject provided by the audience and each time someone shouts “Switch” you start a new interview with different interviewers and experts.
Best suggestion to be given?
Schrodinger’s Cat – although you had to be at the show (or not be at the show) to know why it was the best suggestion we’ve ever been given!
Worst suggestion to be given?
Operation Yew-Tree (we received this a lot around the time all the revelations were coming out).
What is the future of short form improv?
We hope the future is taking “classic” games and giving them new twists or updates – keeping things fresh for both performers and the audience. I think we’ll also start to see groups putting extra wrapping around short-form shows, so instead of it being a show with games and scenes, you have another layer on top that links them all-together that gives a theme to the show.
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?
There’s most definitely a place for Short-form. You can adapt set lengths really easily (which makes it easy to programme into shows or take to comedy clubs) and from an audience perspective it’s something that is enjoyable to watch (if done well). For a form that is audience friendly it’s definitely got a place in comedy.
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?
They might start to change when you see more long-form improv on TV or streaming platforms. Most people still associate improv with “Whose Line is it anyway?” and it’s difficult to think of a TV show that has marketed itself as an improv show that is not short-form (Even recent shows like Murder in Successville that have had large improvised sections didn’t really market itself as an improv show).
What are some of the important aspects of short form that you believe have a stronger element then long form?
The most important aspect is the amount of audience input that you get throughout the show – audience is moulding the show with the team performing. Compare that to most other forms where you get an ask upfront and then don’t tend to get anything else for the resrt of the show.
Also with short-form you tend to find out more about who the improviser is as you see them play a wide variety of games and scenes and you see their personality come through more, you are getting to know the person and the relationships they have with others on the team.
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?
These two pieces partly contradict each other (but then good improv advice is about contradicting another piece of good improv advice!):
1. If you are in the scene and you sense it is losing energy, then make something happen, either through heightening the situation or taking what was last said and reacting strongly to it.
2. If you are not in the scene and you sense it is losing energy then end the game and move onto something else (a joy of short-form is the ability to reset things by ending a game and starting a new one).
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 is not anymore difficult to create strong-characters in short-form versus any other form. What you lose in short-form is the ability for a character to grow from having been on a journey (because short-form rarely givens you the chance to follow a character). But you can still create a really strong character (with a back story and wants and needs) if you make strong choices at the start of games and scenes.
Do you think there are ways you can make short form more challenging for the more advanced improviser?
With all games there are ways of making them more difficult (e.g. reducing time available to guess in naïve games). As with all other forms of improv, it should be about making other people look good on stage, so to make it more challenging, try to make everyone look even better.
What makes a bad short form scene?
It’s the same as for any “bad” improv scene, the Who, What, Where are not established and the improvisers are not accepting offers that are being made.
What makes a good one?
Scenes where you can see the performers are having fun themselves and having fun with the other people in the game/scene.
Are there any games that you don’t enjoy playing and why?
The alphabet game – It’s mainly because most of the time you end up abandoning all the good things in improv like character and scene-work as you desperately try to remember the next letter in the alphabet and think of a word beginning with that letter.
Do you think Short form works better when the audience is more involved?
Definitely. Given short-form games all have frameworks around them, it’s important you involve the audience to get their suggestions to show that it is being made up and they have an input. Getting lots of suggestions from the audience also gets the audience to invest in the show as they can help set the direction it goes.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
An excellent piece of advice we got recently was, if it looks like the other people on stage with you aren’t having fun, then it’s your job to make it fun for them. That really encapsulates how improv is about the team and it’s about having a fun time on stage with your scene partners.
“Don’t talk about something happening, just make it happen now”, as there’s lots of times people talk about exciting things that are going to happen, but never do. It’s way more fun to watch and perform in scenes where stuff happens.
The final piece of advice is be specific. Audiences love if you are really specific about what objects are, the reasons you are doing something, a thing from the character’s past. It’s better to hear “Here’s a 6 inch tall wooden hand-carved statue of the 1966 England World Cup winning squad that I found in my Grandad’s loft” than “Here’s a birthday present I got you” from a scene partner.
Quick Fire Questions
Which member of your team is the most likely to:
Laugh mid scene?
Create a great character?
Sing an improvised song?
Jimmy – But that’s mainly because he is incredibly good at improvised hip-hop.
Pretend to eat on stage?
Alastair – there’s something very satisfying about mime eating.
Become an animal in a scene?
Create the silliest line in a scene?
Dance on stage?
Commit to object work?
Sarah – She’s fantastic at miming stuff (which the rest of us then walk through or crash into during the scene).
Make a reference to a film or tv show?
Paul – although it’s usually a reference to an obscure show that was on in the 80s or 90s. We’re desperately trying to find someone who’ll let us do Last of the Summer Wine-prov as a show after he suggested it.
Talk to the audience and break the fourth wall?
All of us. At some point in every someone will not only break the wall, but smash it to pieces!
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