Five Questions You Always Want to ask an Improvised Theatre Company

Five Questions You Always Want to ask an Improvised Theatre Company

The Ministry of Unplanned Occurrences are bringing their latest improvised comedy drama, ‘The Apartment’, to the Corpus Playroom at the end of this month (26-28 September). In this blog, they answer the questions they most often get asked about the shows they make.

Is it really *all* made up?

Everything on stage is improvised. We spend some time developing a format (and this varies from show to show – we also have a monthly show which is completely free-form and has no format.) In this show, we know there’ll be some unscripted character monologues to begin with, based on the audience’s suggestion, but that’s all, the rest will follow organically.

What do you do in rehearsals?

Like a football team training for a match, we practise drills and exercises – with improv, this means developing our listening skills, spontaneity, and group connection. Because we work together a lot, like a football team, we develop a ‘group mind’, a sense of how each of us plays, as well as learning about narrative structures and plot arcs, which means we have a good sense of what might come next in a scene.

How do you know when to begin or end a scene?

Improvisers are triple threats: performers, directors, and writers – and like basketballers we are on our toes, watching and listening for signs that a scene needs to be ended. This might be signified by, for example, a long pause, or when someone says a ‘button line’ (punchline) which rounds that scene up, or if we can sense that that the scene doesn’t need any more input. This can sometimes happen after only one line!

Often, knowing when to enter or exit is down to instinct. As humans, we are immersed in stories all around us, and an improviser will often feel when a scene should end at exactly the same time as the audience is feeling it.

Are you ever worried something won’t work?

It can be quite scary (and thrilling) to know that you are going on stage with no idea what’s going to happen, but the joy of playing with a team who work with each other all the time is that we know we’ll work it out together, and it’ll probably turn out to be better than we imagined.

Improv trains you to embrace ‘mistakes’ and a good improviser can make another improviser’s ‘error’ look like genius by making it into the funniest or most poignant moment on stage – all by careful listening and observation.

Why do you improvise? Wouldn’t it be better if it was scripted?

Improv is very popular and there are lots of reasons people like watching and playing. One of the reasons is the thrill of knowing that anything could happen, to watch an improviser’s skill in taking an offer from the audience and creating a piece of art in front of them.

As a group, we create this kind of theatre because we enjoy the immediacy, those electrifying moments, where in that instant you are embodying a character, and you have the freedom to follow your instincts as a writer might.

We also know that we can use that freedom to subvert or follow expectations in that moment – rather than needing to follow a script. If an audience responds, we can lean further into the comedy or the drama, creating a really dynamic experience (as well as a different show each night.)

The Apartment is on at The Corpus Playroom at 7pm from 26-28 September.