This summer we are very lucky to see some of life return to normal and one of the things that is coming back with abang this year is Camden Fringe! We have spoke to a number of acts that you can go and see on the actual stage, so if you have missed comedy and theatre then this is a great time for you! If you are planning on going to the festival though please pre-book your tickets to avoid disappointment. Today we are talking to the improv troupe – Improbotics
Date: 18th & 19th August 2021
Location: The Cockpit Theatre
Hello! Tell us about yourself and the show Rosetta Code that you are bringing to Camden Fringe?
Improbotics is both an improvised theatre company and an international collective of improvisers who mix science with theatre and try innovative concepts on the stage! We use robots and artificial intelligence-based chatbots, performing alongside human improvisers. We have teams in Belgium, Canada, Sweden and the UK and share our crazy ideas, our tech and our values. Our ethos is an arts-meet-science interdisciplinary exploration of how actors can seamlessly perform while interacting with machines, and how to use AI as a tool for human creativity.
Our high-tech improv show Rosetta Code connects actors across borders, with a cast performing in multiple languages, using live translation, remote connection and augmented reality. It all sounds crazy ambitious, but we make it work and create fun games and deep narratives. The show creators and developers are Piotr Mirowski, Kory Mathewson, and Boyd Branch, improvisers who explore the use of AI for creativity in improv and in human-machine interaction. Boyd directs the Improvisational Media and Performance Lab at the University of Kent and has been doing really cool experimental work on digital media for theatre and improv.
How did you come up with the name of your show that you’re taking to the Camden Fringe?
Piotr: I started improvising in French 20 years ago, before switching to English when he moved to the UK/US, and now also in Italian and Polish. Rosetta Code is a deeply personal project for me, as I had to change my primary language three times in my life, just to be understood! I also often got in trouble for saying something weird or funny without realising it… So I thought about a show that relies on translation and miscommunication, where an imperfect technology both helps performers to speak in their native tongue(s) and creates more comical misunderstanding. The perfect analogy was Rosetta Stone, the one that helped us decipher hieroglyphics… and so we came up with the name Rosetta Code, because… computers. We created Rosetta Code in November 2019 for performances at The Rich Mix, as part of the Voilà! Festival of European Theatre, and we brought it back on stage at Brighton Fringe 2021 at The Warren. We are over excited to perform it again in London!
Tell us a little bit about your style of show? What will your set be about?
Rosetta Code builds on our online work that we practiced during the pandemic. Our modern Tower of Babel is made possible through human connection… and by state-of-the-art technology. There will be speech recognition and translation, artificial intelligence (the now infamous chatbot GPT-3), but also telecommunications and virtual reality: one of the cast members, Jutta, will actually connect from Stockholm. Through the magic of virtual reality, we will project both the local cast (on stage) and Jutta (standing in front of a green screen) on screen, to compose everybody onto a single image – it will be as if Jutta was on the stage with us!
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at the fringe?
We are looking forward to seeing Artificial Insmelligence (we are intrigued), and improv shows including Ladies That Improv, Impromptu Shakespeare, Gämez, Jinni Lyons is an Only Child, Melting Pot and The Very Nice Improv Show.
Have you done the fringe before? What have been some of your favourite shows to date and why?
We have each done the Camden Fringe so many times and really love it. The robots (and humans) of HumanMachine and Improbotics have been there since 2017, and in the cast, we all love being able to showcase our work to friends and family in London!
How has the last year in lockdown been for you? Have you managed to do many online shows?
When the pandemic struck, Improbotics stayed connected by rehearsing and performing online in a virtual reality environment. Using tele-immersive improv, performers were brought together in shared virtual worlds, which has really cemented us as a group and provided invaluable connection in a very difficult time! The technology allowed us to feel like we were in the same room together, creating exciting new work and experimenting with amazing ideas!
We’ve been very active online, performing with Extreme Improv, Queen City Comedy (The Everybody Get in Here Improv Festival), at the Art AI Festival, on our own YouTube channel and our show, Improbotics Online, won the Most Innovative Show Award at the Online Paris Fringe 2020 and a ‘Ballsy Award’ from Binge Fringe.
And now you are returning to the stage!!! How exciting! What are you looking forward to the most?
We’re really excited to have the opportunity to explore our theme of connection in a live setting and in such a fantastic location! We recently performed at Brighton Fringe, and just the experience of being back on stage, connecting with each other and a live audience was the best feeling ever! It gives us a chance to really build on and celebrate our virtual work over the pandemic too!
What advice would you give to others who want to perform at Camden Fringe next year?
Go for it – it’s a great opportunity! Check out all of the venues carefully, as they are more spread out in terms of distance than some other fringes, and try to make links with as many other productions as possible too!
What is the best thing about performing at the Camden Fringe?
It is in Camden!
What are your three favourite things about Camden?
Cyberdog, The Roundhouse theatre, promenades along the canal.
Favourite one liner you have done in a show and why?
Some of the lines that the AI comes out with are unbelievably silly and hilarious. We have one game where a human improviser is being fed lines into an earpiece by the AI, which they then repeat, adding emotion, in a scene with a human improviser. Often these lines are so incongruous that it is VERY hard not to corpse! Our whole ethos is about making the AI the hero, not the problem, so there is a delightful challenge there!
Who would be your ultimate dream audience member?
A person who has never seen improv before, and who figures how this works along the way!
The iconic image of the Camden Fringe is the Pigeon – if you could call this year’s pigeon a name to represent its style what would it be and why?
Hope! This year’s pigeon is a particularly starry-eyed bobble-hatted spectacular one, which symbolises the excitement and hope of getting back to live performance!
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
Why should people come and see the show?