For June we are very excited to be able to go behind the scenes of Cambridge’s oldest Improv troupe, the group is a mixture of university students and members of the community. This month we talk to members of the troupe all about how they prepare for shows, stories from the stage and even get to speak to some of the troupes one on one to find out a bit more about them! Today we find out all about how the oldest improv team in Cambridge began plus improv troupes they find inspiring.
Hello Can you tell us a little bit about the improv team The Cambridge Impronauts?
Hello! We are a comedy improv troupe based in Cambridge, UK. We draw our members from the surrounding area: a mixture of students and permanent residents. Most of our IRL performances have been at the ADC Theatre or Corpus Playrooms, though of course, we’ve spent the last year doing online shows only.
It’s a friendly troupe – good bants via Facebook chat and a nice bit of chit-chat before our regular rehearsals. Being in a university city, the membership changes over time – performers flow through the Impronauts. Having said that, one remains a member for life, so we have players who joined many years apart.
We currently have about a dozen regulars at rehearsals.
How did you guys form?
Ah – the mysteries of history! It looks like we first coagulated in 2003 as “Improvised Comedy Ents”. None of the currently active members remember those days, unfortunately. In August 2012 we metamorphosis into “The Cambridge Impronauts”. In 2020, we decided to tweak the logo by dropping the moustache.
As for how we keep going – we run Open Workshops throughout the year – free classes in Improv. People are welcome to drop-in for an occasional class just because it’s fun and stress-relieving, or come regularly to build their skills. We generally don’t run auditions, rather we invite people from the workshops to join the performers when we feel they’re at the right level.
I think we need to celebrate and thank the other troupes in Cambridge. There are several here, each with a different approach, and a lot of support and cross-pollination takes place.Cambridge Impronauts
How did you come up with the name of your troupe?
The name apparently came from a “Jason and the Argonauts” themed show – though the logo we adopted implied an astronaut theme. Looking through old emails, it seems we wanted something catchier and more charismatic than ICE. The name has worked well, I think.
What style of Improv do you do?
I don’t think we’re deeply wedded to a particular style. We generally do a few short-form shows (“Quickfire!”) each term: playing games like previously, late-for-work, change and so forth. The details change each show, sometimes having a theme, sometimes making it more like a competition. These can have a different cast each time, and because we continuously run rehearsals, the cast can be decided at short-notice.
Additionally, we aim to have a run of a long-form narrative show each term. We’ve had B-movies, Film Noir, Mythology/Fantasy, and Disaster Movies as themes in the past. Any member can pitch an idea for a show, the committee picks one, and the person whose idea it was will pick a cast and rehearse/direct them for the show.
Since going into lockdown, we’ve moved online. Our short-form shows became “Clickfire!” and we have experimented with other styles – including the “Weird-Ask Podcast” and a La Ronde “Wheel-of-People”. We just completed a 3-show run of a long-form narrative called “Hacked Mirror” which was a dystopian tech-drama.
What will make you different to other improv shows out there?
Perhaps the variety mentioned above. Some troupes do set themselves up with a specific format and I think we are more varied than that. That’s not a criticism, though: There are many worlds to be explored within one format.
What other improv groups are you a fan of and why?
Firstly, I think we need to celebrate and thank the other troupes in Cambridge. There are several here, each with a different approach, and a lot of support and cross-pollination takes place. Given limited space, take a look at Stealing The Show for raucous heist comedies, and The Ministry of Unplanned Occurrences for varied, funny, and intriguing “Moment-Specific Theatre”.
Outside Cambridge, we are blown away by Sex, Lies and Improvisation who bring intense emotions and drama (with humour). They guested with us in Edinburgh, and we’ve made great use of their training videos.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe?
Do it! See shows by other troupes. If possible, jam or train with others. Make sure your new group agrees on how much time to put into it. Be sure to nurture your off-stage relationships: yes-and support doesn’t only exist on the stage. Discuss boundaries regularly and caringly: yes-and doesn’t mean letting someone make you uncomfortable.
What about extra advice for those wanting to focus on an improv style or format they are creating?
Be kind to yourselves and each other.
Discuss how and whether you want to give notes and make changes (will you have a nominated director/coach who does that, or will you discuss between peers?)
Allow yourselves time. Look for patterns in your performances and consider how to address them rather than worrying about individual events.
Perform a run-through in-front of someone else after a few rehearsals – ideally another improviser – and get their feedback.
If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?
@impronauts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. www.impronauts.com on the web.