Thursday, 29 May 2014

The best way to introduce an improv show

A lot of groups I've seen start with a standard intro that warms up their audience by getting them to shout out things to get them ready for the shouting of suggestions later in the show. The first one is always easy; your own name, the second is usually your favourite cheese/dinosaur/biscuit etc.

Then the audience is asked to meet someone new in the room and learn their name. This is such a great way to make a room feel comfortable, and often the ensuing mini conversations between these people who've just met at the improv could last a lot longer, if there wasn't a show about to start!

Then the audience is asked to shout out the name of the person they've just met, and after that, to show how much love there is in the room they're asked to shout out "I love you" followed by the name of the person they've just met!

The first time I saw this "Get-to-know-someone" intro, was by Steve Roe at one of his Hoopla Shows. At first I assumed everyone else who used it was copying it from him, but I don't know if he copied it from someone else to begin with. I think it would be hard to claim ownership, as can happen with jokes or, more commonly, heckler put-downs in stand up, once they're shared enough they become stock material. And I don't expect anyone would mind as long as it makes for better improv shows.

In both Stand-up and improv shows, I've found I've had to coax audience members to sit at the front. In stand-up it's understandable as the comedian usually chats to or "picks on" the front row. A lot of audiences are unfamiliar with improv and assume it's similar to stand-up. The Get-to-know-someone intro takes away all that apprehension and makes everyone feel at ease ready for an evening that celebrates its mistakes (and their justifications) just as much as when everything seems to be running perfectly as if scripted!

The other reason for a warm up and suggestions is to prove to the audience that it is all made up and  not scripted. The last improv show I attended, the cast told me they had overheard a complaint from an audience member in one show that "they hadn't learnt their lines very well!"

It becomes a balance of trying not to patronise the initiated while trying to explain to the newcomers, and the best way to solve this is the simple question "Who's seen improv before?" This can help you judge that, but then you're left wandering if some newcomers haven't shouted out because they think it's like stand-up and they'll get picked on if they do. So you tell them "This isn't stand up, we won't be picking on you!" And often they don't believe you, because many comedians tell the "don't worry I won't pick on you" lie!

Although the audience has come for improv, I've found the intro needs to seem slick and professional, or they lose confidence in the show. A well rehearsed intro helps.  I've seen some shows with scripted intros (not for improv purists)! But learning how to create right atmosphere for the show will ultimately make it more awesome…

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