With our advanced ensemble improv group, we have been devising original formats with the aim of either presenting them, or live-streaming them, online. We were actually working-up another format, Spaced Out, when this one came about.
The group was split into two. Ian took one group off to Streamyard (another platform we use for streaming videos) and I stayed on Zoom to do some improv exercises to prepare the 2nd group.
We generally advise students to use a PC or laptop for online classes, as on mobile you can only see 4 participants at once, and need to swipe to see more. So mobiles are limited. However, not everyone has a laptop, and I wanted to explore what those limitations were like first hand.
It was a hot sunny day, and I was trying Zoom on mobile outside. The idea came to me in a flash. I ran upstairs to tell Ian (he was having his second shower of the day. It was very hot). "Let's do improv on the move! Get away from the desktop!! We can improvise in the bathroom - anywhere." "Yes. Yes!" he said, wrapping a towel around himself, walking towards the camera to revel less of himself. He got it straight-away.
The great thing about our ensemble group is they are always happy to experiment. They understand this includes trying out technical ideas too, as the devices and settings we use impact on both the process and the results now. The first time we tried switching on our mobiles and desktops at the same time got us all incredibly confused!
My initial idea had been to use mobiles to contrast with the desktop for Ian's Spaced Out format, and that's the first time we'd used mobiles in class a few weeks before. But this week, there'd been so many developments in the news, it was a major talking point in class as everyone 'signed in'. There was a lot playing on all our minds, and it felt right to explore that.
So, the 'In Light of Recent News' exercise:
Your'e working from home. You're having an important video call with a work colleague. You're distracted. Be really busy around the home. Keep moving. Talk about what's happening in the news today. Make it important to your relationship. Include the issues that are playing on your mind.
The first group loved it. We played it with the second group when they came back. This video playlist below is made up of the exercise played in class.
This is how I find our new formats come about. The whole thing is an improvisational process. If you follow what's happening, its serendipity. The format will emerge.
We've now taken some of the characters and started to find connections in their relationships. It looks like we're finding a way to create an online long-form series made-up of short conversations, that audiences can dip into or follow. Hopefully.
From the audiences POV. You're surfing Facebook Watch. You dip into an improv show part-way. If you don't know what the hell is going on in the first 30 seconds or so, you'll probably move on. I know I do. And I love improv. In my opinion, Social media is best suited to short-form improv, but you can edge towards long-form if you're canny about it.
With this format, or what it could become, I hope audiences can relate it.
Topicality doesn't generally go hand in hand with improv. Of course, topical issues may get a mention in live shows, but from my experience 'live improv' tends to vier away from it, as a more 'stand-up' domain. We're all living through such turbulent times. It's hard to avoid!
In my search for online improv shows on social media during lockdown, I've found one that translates well to the virtual world. It's a group I really like watching and go back to. They're London based, and called Shoot from the Hip. It's a live-streamed short-form show using audience suggestions. They're funny, have a great chemistry and clearly enjoy making it. They do a couple of shows a week.