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 Kent based Short Form Troupe – TNT Improv Sketch Comedy Society
Hello tell us about your troupe and three fun facts about it!
The University of Kent has had various comedy societies form, so we desire to expand upon the past. Historically, the comedy that has derived from here, in Canterbury, Kent, has found great success in industry and life. We will deliver similar glory at least that is the hope. We aim to bring humour into people’s lives; to allow people to understand the world around them in a more comedically critical manner; to create meaningful comedy; to embrace the nature of humanity, society and spontaneity in collaborative creation.
We run two sections of training and comedic theatre creation: improv and sketch. The improvisational comedy training is based on Keates (2017) University Improv Comedy Society Manual that will be extended upon based on the methodology of Second City to produce sketches. In other words, we take the training in improv to devise and re-improvise sketches; the final development of the sketches are in-front of a live audience. Therefore, we perform both short-form improv and sketch.
Three fun facts are: 1) We engage all of Kent in our group, even as a student society we accept everyone that wants to do what we do; 2) our exploration of style means that we produce anything from clown-like improv and sketch to the more realistic; and 3) in our first show, none of the players scored any points! (Maybe we should run the production again so people can see and understand… but it was most definitely fun.)
How did you come up with the name?
TNT is actually quite a common name in improv. It looked great as a name, so it stuck around – no one in the UK uses it (until now). Also, in the first session, we had a bomb scare as a person dressed in stripped black and white with a small black mask over their eyes stalked around the university, looting.
Why did you chose to be a short form troupe?
There is so much more to doing short-form than what is usually performed, so we wish to provide Kent and everywhere else with the wide scope that is has within it.
What is your favourite short form game?
Evil Twin is a wonderful game, but so are many of them. When one character must justify their evil twin counterpart’s action (two actors switching as one character with one providing evil and impish behaviour). Although, obviously, short-form is not just games. It is the short integer between segments that is classically below 15 minutes in length. However, definitions are now changing, as long-form has fallen below that minute count these days.
Best suggestion to be given?
Anything delightfully specific and globally obtainable or something mundane and usual.
Worst suggestion to be given?
At a university, we must expect sexual suggestions; however, the classic sexual ones are not great.
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?
Definitely, we just need to ‘stop’ groups standing on-stage and saying, “now we are going to play x game,” and then playing it. Create productions! Even a simple thrill and liveness in the cast helps. In Bristol, some new improvisers presented a short-form show alike the usual just stated, but given the advice that any cast member can go onstage and introduce any game they wanted to play (with the arc of the show in mind), their set became a lot more thrilling to watch – it was in their bodies and then with the audience.
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?
When people market their productions clearly, there will be no difference. Non-improv audience follow short-form easier – which is bad, as that means laziness in setting the audience’s expectation. Let them come in knowing what they need to know, and then remind them during the show. We can do that in any form of improv. Also, it states that short-form companies rely on this easy route, instead of pushing what we can do with it.
What are some of the important aspects of short form that you believe have a stronger element than long form?
As according to the time restraint, the classic answer is that short-form gets to the point of the scene quickly: “start in the middle of the scene.” It helps in training to make sure people are using clarity and communicating effectively to provide something to watch immediately, which is what that really means. Short-form productions are designed to be fun before the improvisation begins. This is the true value.
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?
Pace is an illusion, look at Comedy Store Players and these actors in their other impro(v) shows. They break the old definitions from the other way, as one of their games can last 15 minutes or more. If a game is losing its momentum and the audience are not in the fun of it, then it is time to move on. If a scene is flunking, then why stay in it!? Get to the joy again. However, this can be said for any form of improv.
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 done in their first line or action, the character expands (their characteristics) with each line stated. This is just training. If you wish to see actors performing bolder, over-the-top (but not too overtly – just trying to push the image) characters, watch well-versed performers in Catch or Match Impro.
Do you think there are ways you can make short form more challenging for the more advanced improviser?
I would not have this as a goal. The more advanced improviser needs to know what they want to develop. The challenge comes from their needs and desire about what they wish to do next. Short-form is not a catalyst for development, but one for development of great comedic and ‘disposable theatre’. It is not all about the comedy; we can access more. Nonetheless, short-form challenges the theatre-maker, more than the improvisers performing these sets.
What makes a bad short form scene?
A bad scene comes from poor acting. Likewise, this is not dependent on it being short- or long- or any other form, it is not even to do with improv – a bad scene is not watchable for the same reason a Channel 5 afternoon movie is not digestible (unless that is your taste). Bad is subjective, but a lot of people can agree on bad theatre (and acting).
What makes a good one?
A good scene is the opposite of the last answer. If it is well-performed by a talented actor, we have a scene.
Are there any games that you don’t enjoy playing and why?
A production that is built for one purpose and performed with another causes conflict in the actors’ enjoyment of the scenes (or games, as per the question). Personally, short-form productions that are all just games, I enjoy entering with a clown energy. I do not like intelligent short-form, as I will not jump through clever hoops.
Do you think Short form works better when the audience is more involved?
Not necessarily. There is no need to use ask-fors in short-form, just as much as long-form. However, the natural inclination is to use is a lot of revelry in the audience for short-form, so even without gaining suggestions it will be about the audience interaction in other ways.
If people want to find out more about your group where can they find you on social media?
We are TNTimprovsketch on all platforms that we are on, so Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We have a website: http://www.tntimprovsketch.co.uk and can be found in Canterbury, Kent or touring (when that happens).
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Improv is easy; it is all about what is already there. This is great, as no one has to work at all; we all just play together. It is a combination of advice, comments on individual working and quotes alike “use what’s there” that get people to the good spot, but knowing to not work and do what is there already helps.
What is the future of short form improv?
Comedic theatre-makers producing productions that are built with short-form. Why have we not had a new Theatresports, Catch Impro, Match, Catch 23, Comedysportz, etc.? (Moreover, why are they mostly all sports-based?) We have, I suppose, but they have not travelled globally, become franchised, or popular. A great example, is in 2009 (I think), the great Italian impro company I Bugiadini performed next to the colosseum (in a theatre) in Rome (beautiful); their production was short-form delight with wonderful audience participation and control, brilliant comedic actors performing funny scenes, and a phenomenal technician creating the brochure of the show whilst the production occurred. He took photos, created the brochure for all the audience, did the lighting and sound, and controlled the technology they used too (projection).
Quick Fire Questions
Which member of your team is the most likely to:
Laugh mid scene?
Create a great character?
Sing an improvised song?
Pretend to eat on stage?
Become an animal in a scene?
Create the silliest line in a scene?
Dance on stage?
Commit to object work?
Make a reference to a film or TV show?
Talk to the audience and break the fourth wall?