INTERVIEW: Welcome To The World Of Improbotics!

This month we are looking at the world of AI and Improv and going behind the scenes of Improbotics! Today we talk to one of the co-founders of the team – Piotr, who leads the UK section of the team! Over the past few years both the show and team have grown in size and they have sold out shows at many festivals. There is so much to talk about so let’s not waste anymore time with an introduction!


Photo credit: Natalya Micic

Hello Piotr tell us a random fact about yourself! 

Hello Holly! My name is Piotr and I cannot pronounce my own name – I am not kidding! In Polish you have to pronounce the R with your tongue and I can’t do that! Luckily, I have been living in France, the USA and the UK for most of my life actually so it is ok that if i cannot say my own name properly. 


How did you discover improv?

I discovered improv 20 years ago at university.  I was looking for theatre and a way to express myself on stage and wanted  to try and discover a new way of communication.  I came across this improv group and they were having so much fun, I immediately jumped  on board and became a captain of the team. We did lots of shows in Toulouse.

The first thing I searched for when I moved to an English speaking country was an improv group to join and also classes to do. I didn’t really speak English well, I had trouble understanding what people would tell me and verbalizing. It was ok because i could always compensate physically and improvise on my understanding of what was being said. 



Tell us about yourself and your tech background and how it first found its way into improv?

I am a research scientist in AI and I have been working on various ways to try and get some intuition and common sense out of large amounts of data. I also work on a search engine predicting queries – when you type it predicts your next word.

As I was working on that I was like, wait a second there is similarities between this and improv because in both cases it relies on doing the most obvious thing.  Due to that relationship I decided to combine the two ideas together. 


Let’s talk about shows – How do you warm up for a show?

The warm up consists of a physical warm up, a vocal warm up and a mental warm up. The physical warm up starts with stretches and we gently introduce ourselves to our past week and also connect. We then do a Bunny Bunny which is a high energy warm up. After a Bunny Bunny you are pretty warm up and exhausted.

For the vocal warm up  we do some form of scales up and down as you need to warm up your voice. We tend to do mind meld as well but I wonder if it is the right thing to do it puts us in our head. Alternatively we tend to predict the next thing  that is going to be said because that is how the AI works so we try and do one word story at a time. 


What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?

My favourite moment on stage is when I genuinely feel sad or happy towards another person. I almost forget what is going on around me and I feel like I am living in a moment and that is where theatre is created in the first place. It is partly because of the audience member but also partly for the actors as well are enjoying themselves 


Who would be your ultimate dream audience member?

A dream audience member is one who came with their arms crossed saying show me what you have got and this won’t work I don’t believe you and at the end go hmm that’s interesting. I like a challenge. 


Photo Credit: Natalya Micic


Do you try to think of the robots as a human being in an improv world? Does this affect the way that you interact with them?

Yes, we try to anthropomorphize the robot as much as we can! It is part of the suspension of disbelief, the magical if, that make improv and performances work. We endow it with status, goals, emotions, and treat it as we would treat any character, giving it agency. It is much more fun and rewarding this way.


Are you heading to festivals this year? If so what ones? 

Yes! On Sunday 1 March, we perform at the Edinburgh International Improv Festival. Then SWIMP in Uppsala on 6 March. We will perform at The Warren during Brighton Fringe on 22-25 May. Then there is Camden Fringe, perhaps Edinburgh Fringe (in the middle of applications at the moment), etc…


What are some of your favourite robot or gadget developments over the past few years and why? 

For a long time, I quite liked having a wireless MIDI pad on the stage. It would be used to control pre-recorded music and sound cues directly from the stage.


Where do you want to see Improbotics in ten years time? 

I hope that Improbotics can inspire improvisers and hackers around the world to make stuff up and find exciting new ways to have fun and to devise new games.


More next week….


Improbotics are headlining our next Phoenix Remix Live! on March the 10th! To reserve tickets then click the image below. 

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