This month I got the opportunity to catch up with the people behind the improvisational podcast IMDp – The Improvised Movie Director Podcast. The podcast is an improvised comedy interview where each episode the regular host Martina Minnow interviews a guest about a movie they’ve made. The movie is made up of the titles of two already popular films and the guest has to improvise what the film is about. Today I speak to Sabrina all about the preparations that go on for the podcast behind the scenes and online shows.
How do you rehearse a format such as your own?
Practicing the format is the final piece of the puzzle. In all of my groups, we focus mainly on relationship based improv, and for the musical improv show making sure we have good harmonisation and rhythm skills. Getting the basics solid means we can then play with different formats.
What is YOUR favourite sets you have done this year and why?
I have loved being part of Play Dead London – in the space of 12 months I did 161 online shows, played 8 different characters and even had the chance to write my own show. I love the blend of scripted scenes and improv, and seeing the audiences get into their roles as detectives. The joy (or frustration) when they see the final verdict and find out whodunnit is priceless! A particular favourite was performing our show Dead Man Overboard as a surprise for one of the cast’s birthdays and seeing her joy when she realised we had made a show just for her.
Tell us about some unusual suggestions that you have had?
My favourite suggestion was for IMDp, and it was the movie mash up title ‘The Little Mermaid in Dagenham’. I also really loved ‘Who Framed Peter Rabbit’?
Recently the improv scene has been very different – how have you adapted to doing shows online?
Before the pandemic, Play Dead London was always performed in person. Our incredible director, Emma, pivoted the entire company online and it has been so exciting to see it grow. The company has done over 300 online shows in one year and we’re still going strong. Moving online has meant we’ve built new audiences in other countries, been booked for birthday parties and business events across multiple countries and time zones, and even been featured on the TV. It has been an incredible journey to be part of and I feel very lucky to be part of the team.
What have been some of your specifically favourite scenes you have created so far in a show and why?
One of my favourite shows was set in Yorkshire and called ‘Ey Up’. The cast created a wonderful world where everyone knew each other, came together each night in the local pub, everyone had a meaningful back story and everyone was rooting for the protagonist and her wife to come together. I loved seeing really strong, relationship focused improv power an hour long musical. It was a real improv highlight.
What have been the worst?
In my first few shows, I kept defaulting to the same character over and over again – a love struck woman desperate to find a partner. Every time I did it, I would get easy laughs from the audience but feel really frustrated at myself for playing into stereotypes and not creating more interesting characters. I now tend to play strong female characters, who are motivated by friendships, or family connection, or achieving their dreams. Much more satisfying to play, and (I hope) more interesting to watch.
Who would be your dream guest to appear at one of your shows and why?
Michelle Obama! I feel like she’d be playful, supportive and have my back all the way.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given about improv?
Focus on making your scene partner look good and the rest will fall into place.
It’s a great feeling when people say they’ve enjoyed listening to it – so if you enjoy listening to someone’s podcast, you’ll make their day by telling them!Sabrina
If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?
I’m on Instagram (@Sabrina.luisi) and Twitter (@Sabrinaluisi).
The improv groups I’m part of are @michelleimpro, @multiverseimpro, @playdeadlondon, @improvmoviepod and @buffetimprov
Tell us about the sort of rehearsals you do to get ready for a show?
Before recording IMDp, we’ll do warm ups with the team and with our guest director. Because it’s recorded over Zoom, we choose games that work well online like 8 Things and Mind Meld. Play Dead rehearsals will involve a lot of practice interrogation sessions, and making sure that we all know our characters and stories well so that we can handle any questions the audience throw at us. For Michelle, Buffet and Multiverse, we will usually practice the format and hone in on relationship based games.
Do you have any pre show rituals – if so what are they?
We always say ‘I’ve got your back’ before we go on stage. A good rule for life, as well as improv, is to surround yourself with people who’ve got your back.
Is it important to have the best tech to host a podcast?
We have definitely seen an improvement since we invested in getting microphones and recording on specialist tools like Audacity and Zencaster. That said, there will still be times when someone’s audio (usually mine) is weaker and Steve, our producer, has to get creative with how to make it work. I’d definitely say that tech enhances the recording but shouldn’t be the barrier to anyone getting started. It doesn’t have to be perfect straight away and you can always refine and learn as you go.
Describe the feeling you have when people tell you they have listened to your show?
It’s really different releasing a podcast to performing live. When you’re on stage, you can hear an audience’s reaction and that’s really energising and reassuring. With a podcast, once it’s released you never really know who is listening or whether anyone is enjoying it. It’s a great feeling when people say they’ve enjoyed listening to it – so if you enjoy listening to someone’s podcast, you’ll make their day by telling them!
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?
For IMDp, we always ask the same opening question ‘what’s the film all about?’ and the same closing question, ‘we hear there’s another film in the works, can you tell us about it?’ It gives us a rough structure to work within, but with plenty of room to explore the world and film that the director is creating for us.
For my other groups, the format can be quite loose (my group Michelle is working on a format called Hotel Michelle which is based on the short form game ‘Meanwhile’), or very structured (Play Dead London has set scripted parts and then breakout rooms for improvisation). For Multiverse, we have a narrative format and we know that fairly early on in the show, the protagonist is going to make a choice that we’ll see play out in two different ways in different universes.
…in the space of 12 months I did 161 online shows, played 8 different characters and even had the chance to write my own show.Sabrina
How do you warm up for a show?
I love group connection games like Mind Meld, 21, I’m a Whisk etc. Anything that brings us together as a team works for me.
How do you wind down for a show?
I love coming off stage and everyone in the group sharing what they loved seeing each other do. It’s an amazing feeling to be on stage together and really special to share the magic ‘did we really just do that?’ moment afterwards.
What has been some of the best advice you have ever been given about improv and comedy?
To draw from your real life. I love Curly Wurlys and Eastenders, and so does my improv podcast character Martina Minnow. Pulling on your real life experiences makes your characters more believable and your role as an improviser much easier.