Slapdash: A is for “Audience”Posted: 16 May 2013
From the A to Z of Slapdash:
3. A is for “Audience”
A few months ago, I went to an intermediate-level improv student show and conducted an experiment. I pretended I had never seen an improv show before, that I had no idea what it was about, how it worked, what its structures and conventions were.
I stood at the back of the room and watched an unusual form of theatre, with a very different atmosphere to an ordinary play. The first and most obvious thing I noticed was the joyful atmosphere, more like a party than a performance, with waves of collaborative support washing out from the stage, across the seated audience, and back again. There was laughter throughout, but no “jokes”. That alone felt refreshing, exciting and different.
What I saw on stage could best be described as a series of comic theatrical sketches produced off the cuff. I was impressed at how every performer instinctively knew when it was their time to come forward, and how to start each scene. There seemed to be a kind of telepathy between them. Surely, I said to myself, it’s not entirely improvised? Surely they plan at least the structure of the scenes beforehand, even if the dialogue is made up on stage? And although some of the sketches appeared to be set in a void, and it was hard to know who the characters were or what the specifics of their dialogue were about, this didn’t matter very much, as the crucial bit of information that put the whole scene into context inevitably arrived in the form of a punchline.
I was relieved to discover that, as an outsider, I enjoyed “improvisation” very much. I wanted to see more. In fact, I probably enjoyed it rather more than I would have done if I’d spent my time scrutinising the improvisers’ technique, spotting missteps, or analysing the structural integrity of their Harold.
Improv is still adolescent in the UK, and reliant on an in-crowd to pad out audience numbers. This is lovely, but the risk is that the scene could become uroboric. I hope that the Slapdash Festival will grab the opportunity to reach a wider audience than just improvisers and their friends and families. By encouraging this, we help the scene to grow not just financially, but creatively too. The feedback that newbies supply can be much more useful than that of our fellow performers, especially as they don’t mask their words in technicalities or flattery.
Like Dracula with a clipboard, I will be preying on improv virgins throughout the Festival to ask them their opinions. What did you think of the show? What worked and what didn’t? Will you be coming back?