The Improv Conspiracy isn’t just an improv troupe. Sure, they do a mean Chicago-style improv show and boast a number of talented performers, but they also offer weekly shows and public workshops for people who want to learn how to improvise.
While you can catch weekly shows from the Improv Conspiracy, this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival will feature their best female performers in Play Like a Girl. We caught up with improv conspirator Nadine Sparks to find out what we can expect from the show.
Could you explain the difference between Chicago and Australian improvisation for the comedically uneducated among us?
Chicago style improvisation refers to ‘long form’ improvisation, as opposed to ‘short form’. Australia traditionally has done ‘short form’, things like theatresports and tv shows such as Thank God You’re Here fit into this category.
‘Long form’ means that the improvisation can go for long periods of time. The pieces are more like comedic plays that allow for call backs. The Improv Conspiracy works with a few different formats, including The Harold, The Armando and The Movie. This is the debut of this specific format.
Improv is different from stand-up in terms of audience participation, not to mention there’s not really a script. Does that make planning shows easier or harder?
Improv is completely improvised, so there is no writing of scripts or learning of lines. There is however, training, which is like rehearsals. We train so we can more effectively improvise. We do specific exercises or we run the format and we get notes on our work. This helps the performers to continue to improve. We obviously want our product to be of the highest standard. We aim for engaging and comic, character driven work. So training is a very important part of that process.
In that regard it doesn’t make it easier. There is of course the absolute joy of being part of the unraveling of each new show and the excitement of not knowing exactly what will happen on any given night.
What about audiences – is there more of a connection to an audience in improv because they contribute to the show?
The audience does give the initial suggestion but there is not really room in the piece for interaction. Stand up may include audience interaction –“Who’s on Tinder?” That sort of thing. In that way the work we do is more like theatre. Audiences are often wowed by our capacity to create a 50 minute piece from their initial word.
Tell me about Play Like a Girl – what can an audience expect going into it, if anything? Should we start preparing ideas?
Play Like A Girl’ is a 50 minute format which is a combination of The Evente and Close Quarters. We will ask the audience for a one-word suggestion and based on that word we will perform 50 minutes of uninterrupted comedic improv. It is centred around an event which is determined by the first two responders of the suggestion.
You’re a bit different from most groups in that the Improv Conspiracy runs workshops for regular people – what should people know when they’re thinking of trying improv?
We certainly do. The workshop program is a very important part of the company. It is lots of fun and a great opportunity to meet new people. Improv is also beneficial to people from a whole range of backgrounds. The skills you learn in improv are particularly useful for people who would like to become more flexible in their thinking and to those who would like to solve problems with creative solutions. The workshops are also amazing for people who love to perform.
And finally, what are your comedy festival picks – improv or other?
I have a solo show that I might as well plug: Nadine Sparks Rehab. I can also recommend The Improv Conspiracy’s other shows Bear Attack and Now Showing: The Improvised Movie. Other shows that will be fantastic are: Wander Women, Dan Pavatich’s Please Stay, The Quiet Achievers, Georgie Carroll’s Nurse Case Scenario, Tessa Waters’ Womanz, Katerina Vrana’s Sex, The Pajama Men, Corey White’s The Cane Toad Effect, Dave Eastgates’ I Wish I had a Band and Max & Ivan’s The End.
The Improv Conspiracy’s Play Like a Girl has seven shows between the 26th March and 7th April. It plays at the Croft Institute: tickets start from $14. To get tickets, check out the MICF website, the Improv Conspiracy’s website or at the door.