Unlike traditional forms of theatre, when the actors of Lightbulb Improv take to the stage, they do so without a script.
A confessed ‘drama nerd’, co-founder Amy Crawford says she was personally drawn towards improv theatre after getting into the public service grind and becoming a mum left her (unsurprisingly) time-poor.
“You get to make it up on the spot, but you still get the joy of teamwork and collaboration with your fellow actors.”
She explains that their goal is to put on fun, thought-provoking but still very light-hearted shows.
“We want to put on shows that you could take a first date to,” Ms Crawford says.
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To have a well-oiled and gelled-together improv team, there’s a lot of practice, usually about three hours a week, but this will double in the lead up to a show.
Training consists of wordplay games, rapid-fire drills and exercises on character development, trust and connection.
“It’s a lot about listening when you’re on stage. You have to be able to quickly respond to what the other characters are doing and saying so you can respond.
“But the other part is about trusting the speed of your response and rolling with it even if what comes out of your mouth seems absurd,” Ms Crawford explains.
It’s not always smooth-sailing when the troupe are out on stage, but if something goes wrong or the rest of the troupe are not keen on a particular character or line that appears, they act together to remove it or cover it on stage.
Ms Crawford does say she once attempted a singing Malcolm Turnbull, which didn’t go well. Fortunately, one of the other performers did what’s called ‘pulling the scene’, which means bringing the scene down or to an end and moving on.
“We call it ’embrace failure’. It’s about trusting the other actors will catch you,” she explains.
But she says the thrill of failure also helps to connect the actors to the audience. On stage, the actors can feel the audience willing them to do well.
She says they have had one occasion where an audience member had entered late and didn’t realise that it was improvised.
“We’d done a show about teachers bullying other teachers, and a lady came up to us afterwards to ask if she could have the script,” Ms Crawford adds.
The Lightbulb Improv troupe took this as a huge compliment that their show seemed like it could have been scripted.
They do have a format outlined before they begin, though.
The Door, for example, which they will be performing this weekend, begins with the audience picking the characters they will then go on to watch. Small moments from each person’s life are then explored before moving through the rest of the drama.
This weekend’s shows are themed ‘what if’. It’s all about those moments in life where a twist of fate could have changed everything.
Lightbulb Improv has played at Smith’s Alternative over the past few months with a small comedy show. This will be their first full theatre piece since last year’s lockdowns.
So far, they say the reception from the Canberra community has been overwhelmingly warm.
Lightbulb Improv will be performing two shows of The Door tomorrow and Saturday night (7 May and 8 May) in The Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre Centre. They’ll be back in July with Off the Ruff.