So you’ve booked tickets to go and see an improv show. You might be a virgin to the genre, you might be an improv aficionado, you might have seen every single episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway from back in the 90s including the early 2000’s US version and 2013 reboot.
But Improv is a funny beast in that the more the audience can work with the format, the better and funnier it will be. Below are up with five top tips on how to watch and be involved an improv show, where your presence as an audience member affects what happens on stage.
1) Relax – they’ve got this
Audiences sometimes feel uneasy seeing an unscripted show but it’s important to note that, if it’s a relatively established show or long running cast, they have this covered. If laughter is the best medicine then you’re in the safe hands of highly trained surgeons. They have hundreds of stage hours making stuff up on the spot. So whilst anything can happen, you can be safe in the knowledge that it will most likely be incredibly entertaining.
2) You will not be picked on!
It’s important to distinguish improv shows from stand-up shows. In a stand-up show an audience member shouting out would be considered “heckling” and they would subsequently have their arse comedically handed to them in a potentially very embarrassing fashion. In improv shows, audience members are encouraged to shout out suggestions and it’s important to note you will not be mocked or picked on for calling out. You are contributing tasty ingredients from which the cast will build a delicious show.
3) Leave the comedy to the stage
It’s worth mentioning that the improvisers on stage are going to use your suggestions to build an hour, two hour long performance. When you give a suggestion, as funny as it might be, it’s worth thinking whether you’d really want to see an entire performance based on it. Whilst the ‘gynaecology clinic’ or ‘dildo megastore’ might seem side-splittingly hilarious to you and your pals, do you really want to see this one gag spread across a two-act show? The most comedic shows often come from genuinely interesting or unusual suggestions
4) Remember, it’s still theatre
Whilst shouting out is actively encouraged during an improv shows, there really is a time and a place. The compère will directly ask the audience for suggestions. It’s a clear green light to shout out whatever is in your head and help shape the show. But, do remember that outside of this, you are absolutely still watching theatre. Respect the hardworking thesps on stage by being quiet and not talking over the scenes that blossom from your inspiring seeds.
5) Enjoy the scene within a scene
Part of the joy and excitement of watching live improv is that whilst you are watching characters interacting on stage you are also watching the improvisers connect and communicate with each other. Improvisers are playful creatures and love to test and push each other on stage. So whilst you might be watching a scene where a fan meets their favourite poet, you are also watching one improviser playfully throw down a gauntlet to make the other sweat. “But Mr Green, perhaps you could regale us with one of your poems from your latest collection!” This sub-scene dialogue adds a whole new layer of entertainment that just doesn’t exist in scripted theatre. Good improv needs good communication and watching out for looks, reactions, playful teasing and connections from the improvisers on stage makes for a new level of engagement and excitement for an audience.
See Lizzy perform in Murder She Didn’t Write: The Improvised Murder Mystery this Sunday, April 29th at 4pm. Tickets here