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 talk about the future of improv and the best thing and challenges of being part of the Cambridge Impronauts.
Tell us about some unusual suggestions that you have had?
It’s a shame no-one is talking about the huge inefficiency of Improv – so many prompts shouted, tweeted, or thrown into a hat, but only a couple used for each show. I’d like to see a kind of graveyard or memorial for the unused ones. Perhaps there’s a book or app in that idea…
How do you rehearse a format such as your own?
Even for a short-form gig, we’ll make sure the actual cast does at least one rehearsal together to make sure we all know the games and are happy with them.
For long forms, a series of rehearsals: How it’s done will depend on the director for that show, but it normally includes conversations about the concept and style, complete run-throughs, and drilling elements that could be improved.
What is the best thing about being in The Cambridge Impronauts?
Every member knows that they have the support of a lovely gang of superb improvisers when they rehearse, try out new things, perform, or just chill.
What is the most challenging?
Generally we can’t all be in every show – sometimes one has to sit out. While it’s great to watch and learn, it’s also hard fighting the urge to run onto stage and join them!
What have been some of your specifically favourite scenes you have created so far in a show and why?
In Improgeddon (Early 2020) we tried some new things. We chose to have a Lighting Director controlling the scene edits – this made the show closer to a traditional theatrical performance for the audience. The Director, Sophia, created a very dramatic son-et-lumiere moment to indicate the End of the World with pulsing PARcans and terrifying Tannoy. The performers ran into spotlights to tell us what was going wrong – it was intense, and gave a strong dynamic lift part-way through the show. It really pushed our assumptions about what an improvised show should look like.
What have been the worst?
That’s an uncomfortable question. Occasionally there are miscommunications – someone mishears an endowment, or two people enter a scene when one was intending a monologue – but those frustrations are felt more by the performers than the audiences. While we might revisit such moments after a show or rehearsal, we only ever do that with an eye to improving a format or mutual understanding; never to blame or shame – we support and care about each other.
Who would be your dream guest to appear at one of your shows and why?
Something we’ve done a few times now is to invite another group to perform in a double bill with us (or we’ve performed on their stage). We like to combine that with a joint workshop or class where each troupe/act can share some of their games and exercises – or even train each other up a bit in our show formats. It’s really refreshing to do, as well as being fun. It’s also great for the audience who get even more variety than normal and perhaps see something that hasn’t been in town before. We’ve done this with Stealing The Show, Warwick Improvised Theatre Society, and with Bendy House (including online). I don’t think we should identify a single dream guest for the future – the Improv world is too full of wonderful people and hardly-heard-of acts for that.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Don’t plan: Listen … and then respond.
What would you like to see happen to comedy over the next ten years?
Definitely more inclusivity. Everyone has the potential to be funny and creative and the more people from different backgrounds and experiences that get together to perform, the more exciting and relatable the troupe becomes. We want everyone to enjoy our shows, and it goes a long way to achieving that if we have a diverse group of people smashing it on stage!
From a more personal perspective, I also would like to see more surrealism in comedy. I grew up on the Mighty Boosh, Eddie Izzard and Monty Python (amongst other things) and I think there is a real magic to making bizarre and colourfully weird pictures in audience’s heads.