Improv Conspiracy Blog

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This is a post in our "Five Questions" series of interviews with Improv Conspiracy members.  We aim to publish one per week over the next few months!

What was the first improv you saw that made you think "Wow, I'd like to do that!"?

In 1998, I wrote a (real, handwritten ink) letter to my mate Geary saying, I've read about this upcoming show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and made some precocious evaluation like "the concept has exciting potential, do you not agree?" Like Columbus 'discovered' America, I discovered improvisation.

Around the same time a local radio station hosted DaVinci's Notebook to sing live on their morning show. They were a mind-blowing a cappella band of nerds who wrote songs but also performed any song requested (barring Bohemian Rhapsody) and if they didn't recognise the request they'd improvise a song of the same title. The concept of spontaneous, collaborative and *excellent* music and theatre completely captured and fascinated me.

Attractively, being an improviser validates my loud volume, my people-watching, ridiculous thoughts, and general nerdiness by labelling these as Storytelling Skills. Cheers, improv.

What aspects of the Harold do you find the most rewarding? The most challenging?

It is absolutely delightful to realise homo sapiens are storytelling creatures and that with training and trust, a team of people can emergently create a story. And to explore a theme with increasingly raised stakes, to tease out the constant ridiculousness of daily life- only obvious when we pause and notice humanity's curious habits.

One of the most challenging aspects for me is my poker face while acting as both character (in the story) and improviser (strategically). My left eyebrow raises and someone told me I look maniacal!

What would you like your team to be capable of by Comedy Festival? A year from now?

By Comedy Fest I'd love the Elevator DJs to expand our toolset, playing interesting scenes visually and emotionally, and, of course, making ourselves laugh.

The Harold is both an art form and a team sport. As with arts and sports, as skills become subconscious our brains are freed up for more dynamic play. In a year, I hope the team's technical skills and gut senses will be so deft that we can perform artistic feats of derring-do, on pure instinct. And through our seamlessness, the audience can be entranced without any sense of what structures and skills are our scaffolding.

Which Conspiracy members do you have improv crushes on, and why? What do they do that inspires you?

What is amazing about the Melbourne improv scene is the rapid transition from audience member with an improv crush, to having the privilege of training under and playing with the performers you admire. (Ahem, see also: The Improv Conspiracy workshops, a fast track to fun times.)

The Conspirators are such heartthrobs, this is just a handful of my improv crushes:

Emmet Nichols for his delightful, lightning-quick honouring of details.

Charlie Sturgeon for his nonchalant storytelling genius (and how he ironed all my clothes in a dream once).

Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd because even his heartbroken characters have contagious smiles.

Tim Quabba because his physically flamboyant offers immediately reset the whole room's centre of gravity.

And all the sisters who are doin' it for themselves, especially Kat Chish whose casual prowess lends her characters status and stories calm collectedness.

How has your improv training helped your non-improv life?

Cindy Tonkin says, how you do anything is how you do everything. When your senses are heightened to what you're communicating, even playing a gangster duck on stage (and who hasn't) can reveal your own habits and hesitations. "Be changed by what the other character said," I'm told in an improv note, and then realise at a business meeting that I'm pre-planning my response rather than listening closely to what the other person is saying; in life as in improv active listening skills may mean the difference between an innovative idea and business as usual.

Interesting moments, insights, personal and narrative shifts all occur on the edge of our comfort zone, between our expertise and the unknown. Improvisers are constantly playing on this border. We want to surprise and delight ourselves, and seize the moment when that surprise arrives - not ignore it to follow a script. Anyone who has ever asked a question and been conversationally plowed over, knows this decision makes such a difference!

I'm constantly transferring improv skills to the real world - Be truly present. Listen well. Notice everything. Be surprised. Fail joyfully.

Everything joyfully.