Watching people think onstage

In association with The BIT, Lucy Fennell (Impromptu Shakespeare, Bumper Blyton) is working on a new show "Is It Improvised? Does It Matter? exploring the relationship between improv, theatre and its audience. The show is this Friday (15th Feb) and is currently in its RnD week. In this blog, Lucy will be updating us daily on how the process is going, and her thoughts and feelings about the new show!

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Today was the first day of my week-long residency at the BIT. I'm visiting from Reading and am delighted to be a bit of a newbie in the Bristol Improv scene. The last time I was here for anything improv related was the Improv Festival in 2013 when I did a very sweaty show with Glitch the improvised puppet show at the Bierkeller, I remember it feeling very rock and roll.

I can usually be found performing in London with Impromptu Shakespeare and Bumper Blyton. It was these genre shows which first made me think, rather guiltily, whether audiences really cared if the shows were entirely improvised or not. When I performed with Upstairs Downton, Edinburgh audiences were drawn in because they loved Downton Abbey, the show could have had 'set' elements to ensure a base level of consistency and I don't think audiences would have felt short changed, or even have known. Like everyone else, I have great shows where everything is soaring with discovery and less than great shows where things feel clunky and difficult but since I've become professional and started performing to paying audiences, I'm more conscious of wanting to deliver a consistently high quality show.

I know of improvisers who have disdain for shows that employ structures, devices, repeating elements or scaffolds but I think that even with any of those things in place, enough of the work is still made up on the spot to justify it being called improv. For a non-improviser audience this is still incredibly impressive and possibly ensures a better standard of show?

I suppose the debate is different depending on whether the audience is made up of other improvisers or not. From the recent survey I did, it became clear that many improvisers watch improv to improve their own skills. We don't want the show to be indistinguishable from scripted work, we want to lift the skin and see the muscles moving and watch the cogs whirring. It's the beauty of, as one survey participant said 'watching people think onstage'.

So this week is about bringing together something very planned, putting it beside something very spontaneous, seeing how they compare and ultimately, where the audiences' joy can be found.

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Is It Improvised? Does It Matter? is on Friday 15th February, 8pm. Doors and bar open from 7.15pm. Tickets are £7 and can be bought HERE.