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 go behind the scenes of rehearsals and preparing for a show.
Tell us about the sort of rehearsals you do to get ready for a show?
It will depend on the kind of show we’re doing. For the short-form shows (where we play fun silly disconnected games) we usually just do some relaxed rehearsals where we play the games and get to know where we’re playing, whether that is a venue back when human contact was a thing, or messing around with online streaming to see what’s possible.
For the longer-form shows (full shows with connected scenes telling a story) we will venture much deeper. We spend weeks to months becoming experts in the genre so that parody comes easily to us. We get the beats of the stories established and engrained in our memories, then really take advantage of the advice from our director(s) and fellow cast to ensure that we are on top form for the real thing. Most importantly we do all this as a team so that we have a real chemistry and trust on stage.
When you first start performing shows, what is your key advice to new troupes to finding the stage time and getting key slots?
I think the best thing is to make friends. By which I mean jump right into the local improv/theatre community; attend workshops, go to jams, attend other events. The more people you and your troupe know, the more likely these people will attend and plug your shows. Plus opportunities will inevitably arise to collaborate, and that way you can start getting introduced to venues.
Once you’ve got some venues that you can perform at, next piece of advice would be to become the perfect guests. Help clear up afterward. Don’t disrespect the staff and place. You may not get the prime slot initially if you are new, but don’t be an arsehole and you’ll build a reputation of being an excellent troupe to bill.
Do you have any pre show rituals – if so what are they?
It is a mixture of individual and group activities. There’s always an incredibly positive attitude- people being really supportive of one another and hugging and saying pleasant things, getting that vibe right. Then some people may start reciting tongue twisters, pop in some music, do push ups and that, getting themselves pumped to go out.
I personally like to stretch and listen to La Bamba by Los Lobos.
Describe the feeling you have when you host a show and people specifically turn up to see your troupe?
It is always amazing to see people come and see us, whether that is online with people from all corners of the Earth are watching or in the ADC Theatre in Cambridge. It fills me with an immense pride in the troupe and the reputation they’ve built from providing solid comedy and iconic performances throughout their time in the Impronauts.
We all know that improv is not scripted but do you have some sort of ‘skeleton script ‘ or format in place that you work towards whilst getting ready for a show? Tell us about it?
Definitely in longer form shows we have beats in the story that we want to hit in certain scenes, which is usually to add to the parody of the genre. For example, we all know that part in a RomCom when one of the love interests does something stupid or messes up towards the final third of the movie which causes their partner to get angry and leave. Now we don’t know the exact details of what that is or who the characters will be until we start, but we will aim to have that kind of scene occur 40min into an hour-long show, or in scene 5/8. Then we look extra clever for completely improvising that classic moment in a film when the anthropomorphised cloud breaks up with the protagonist cloud for being seen going raining with a third cloud, which turns out to actually just be their sister and it’s all fine.
How do you warm up for a show?
We like to get the mind alive and the energy up, so we play short quick games that allow us to do this. Games like “3 things”, where very quickly you go around the circle asking each other to name “3 things that you could ride to work” or “3 things that are sharp” and then saying the first things that come into your head. Then we may play a hyped up tournament of Rock, Paper, Scissors that gets the whole cast shouting and cheering manically, causing some mild concerns for anyone who turns up early.
How do you wind down for a show?
We help pack up the venue (always be a perfect guest), then find a squashy deep sofa, recline into it, do some constructive reflection (usually involving talking about our favourite bits) and (in my case) have a cocktail of amaretto, Chambord and coke (“the cherry bakewell”, which after a quick google it turns out I didn’t come up with that first).
Do you remember your first show you did with Cambridge Impronauts? How were you feeling beforehand and how did the show go?
The first long form show that I was in with the Impronauts was our slightly prophetic apocalyptic movie parody Improgeddon. I was responsible for introducing the first night (aka getting the prompts from the audience), and stepping on to that stage felt magically unreal. It had been my first on-stage performance since school, and a rush of adrenaline hit me when I saw the audience and immense pride and imposter syndrome battled in my brain. The audience had a great atmosphere though and I immediately began channelling that adrenaline into trying my best playing the high energy pantomime villain and owner of a furniture store during a goblin apocalypse.
In the end my mum said she loved it so that’s a victory for me.
What has been some of the best advice you have ever been given about improv and comedy?
In a workshop very early on in my improv times, I was told the best thing you can do in a scene is “make the other person look good”. This is a philosophy that has really stuck with me. Firstly if you spend a scene listening, reacting and “yes-anding” your scene partner, then everyone will want to work with you because you’re great fun to play with. Secondly, in a longer form show it is often the support characters who can really drive a story forward by constantly asking the protagonist why they are doing certain things or what their goals are.
So in summary, always go into a scene aiming to lift your partner up (metaphorically).
What are your aims for your troupe for rest of the year?
Keep sharing the joy of improvisation with new people via our Open Workshops. More online shows. Excitingly, we have an on-stage performance lined up with Cambridge’s ADC Theatre on June 16 – it’ll be without an in-person audience, on-off, live-streamed, mixed-media (combining performers on stage and others appearing via video-link). It’s a brand-new format and we’re pumped for it. We’ve also got our applications out for The Edinburgh Fringe and really hope that it can go ahead so we can share our work and see what others are creating.
Even when real-life performance returns, I think we’ll keep doing some shows online as it increases our reach, and it really is a different type of stage rather than just a poor shadow of the real thing. Then there’s a new academic year and we get to meet and welcome a whole bunch of new people to the City of Cambridge and invite them to play with us.