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Much improv about nothing

The Impronauts are Cambridge’s oldest – and best-loved – comedy troupe. Allegedly.

  • Interview
    Lucy Jolin
  • Photography
    Adam Lawrence
- 3 minute read
Students

Teamwork, listening skills, confidence: all important for successful improvisation. But the essential ingredient? That would be a chair, as Joseph McGuchan, second year comsci and Impronaut, points out. “You can’t mime the act of sitting down,” he says. “Not without severely hurting your legs! We use chairs in almost every show, as anything from sofas to ski lifts. They’re our one non-dispensable prop.”

In fact, Isabella Leandersson’s favourite memory revolves around a chair. “We usually try to clear the stage between each scene. On this occasion, I noticed a chair left on stage and decided to use it in my next scene,” she says. “As I went to sit down, a fellow cast member also realised the chair was there and pulled it away! It was a moment of everyone trying to help, resulting in utter chaos.”

Everyone has their own idea of how to resolve what’s happening on stage, she points out – and these ideas are usually vastly different. “You have to try to find this middle ground. Sometimes that happens – and sometimes it really doesn’t. It’s one of my favourite things about improv.”

There’s a feeling of community. If you’re not on form, someone else comes in to save you. If your joke falls flat, someone else justifies that joke or builds on it

Luckily, chaos and resolution are all in a day’s work for the Impronauts. Founded 15 years ago as Improvised Comedy Entertainment (ICE), they’re open to both students and non-students. There are no auditions, just open workshops where all abilities are welcome. Attendees work towards becoming full members allowing them to take part in shows and member-only workshops.

Both McGuchan and Leandersson had attended drama clubs before Cambridge, but they stress that experience isn’t necessary. “We teach a lot of confidence-building in open workshops,” says McGuchan.

“Most people do pretty good improv talking to friends. We try to teach how to get to that confidence on demand. Then we move on to skills like listening and technical aspects, such as structuring a scene or creating interesting characters.”

Performance is also a big part of being an Impronaut. They usually produce one show every term: past productions include Much Improv About Nothing, Improv Actually (you may notice a theme) and improvised musical The Zero Hour Musical. They run the fortnightly Quickfire at the ADC Theatre Bar, which regularly sells out, and take shows to the Edinburgh Fringe. Then there are the extra events: this term they’re running shows to help students cope with exam stress, and in Freshers’ Week they put on shows to get new students involved. It is a demanding schedule, but the troupe’s members throw themselves into it.

“Improv is a very social thing,” says second-year English student Leandersson. “There is a huge amount of interdependence between performers and audience. And there’s a feeling of community. If you’re not on form, someone else comes in to save you. If your joke falls flat, someone else justifies that joke or builds on it. There are no losers and winners – it’s the show that succeeds or fails.”

Learn more about The Impronauts