Improv theatres like to experiment with new and colourful formats. People can only watch so many Harolds before craving crazier shows! That is why party-style shows sound so appealing to audiences and theatre managers. Recently we started doing it at the theatre I’m part of, and I have spent a lot of time thinking of how to craft my ultimate version! In this post, we will explore together the elements that can enhance this format.
What do I mean with a party show?
I am referring to shows that usually involve drinking, games and a notch of enjoying being careless. For instance, this is the excerpt we used for our What The F*ck show. It is a format which embraces the concept of loud, proud and wrong.
An example of a successful long-running show like this is Partytown (previously Mantown) from Toronto, Canada. Here is an old (but gold) video showcasing how they decided to break many “improv rules”. This makes the format feel fresher!
As described on Sam Wasson’s Improv Nation, improvisation rised as an artform where performers freely expressed their ideas. There was no recording, writing down or censoring of the shows. Improvisers could use brand names and explore real-life scenarios. It felt like how two friends would talk! The sincerity and intimacy of the performances were unmatched. We can all admit being inappropriate sometimes, and seeing people embracing that on stage really makes the format shine!
Which are the elements from this kind of shows?
They can be as varied as any other format. If we didn’t think that homogeneity is too restrictive to explore creativity, we wouldn’t be in love with Improvisation! But, of course, the devil is in the details, so let’s explain which are the elements of my take on this format.
As a youngster-like party, we have to make it competitive! There are many ways to make improv more competitive (and funnier), like theatresports. It usually involves some short-form games where we can give points and define punishments. It gets even better when you establish two (or more) teams. We would expand this idea more down below, so let’s not get into details!
Another distinctive part of this kind of parties is drinking and eating. We can learn many lessons from Del Close, but this time try to keep things legal!. Barprov attracts a big crowd, so embracing the wrongness of having an inebriate cast might help with the format. This format feels like an exalted version of Barprov! And it’s an easy way to punish performers! Needless to say, disclaim this fact to both audience and performers, and create some guidelines to minimize the risk.
We want to convey the feeling of an out-of-control party, so we want to crate engagement! We need to warm the theatre up so they can loudly participate in the games (and votes). We want to make them feel part of the madness. We would work on this topic a little bit more later on!
In conclusion, the question I always ask myself when working on a format: What do we want the audience to feel? Participating in a party which is so wrong, loud and hilarious that feels completely different. I want to create such an experience that feels wrong when trying to pitch it to their friends. This show is not for everyone, but if you do it right you will create many die-hard fans!
How can we embrace competitivity?
Teams enhance competition! If we share a common colour, we can divide the audience and make them rally together. It also lets us play together (a key element in improv), while still allowing competition. Having one team captain per team as a host helps as well. They can both engage the crowd and challenge our performers!
A big part of the competition is heightening the stakes, and punishments are a simple tool for that! Choose point-based games. That way we can incentive the lowest-scored performer or capitalize when a joke goes too far! Think of games like Sex with meWorlds worst or ABC.
Use the team captains to make the scenes more absurd, and put the performers on the spot! This won’t be your artsiest improv, and that is fine! Captains can make performers use accents, force new choices, or add new elements to the scene. They have a huge impact on this format, let’s explore ways to enhance some games at the end of this post!
Add some randomness into the mix! This is not an actual sport. Our end goal is delivering an amazing experience to the public (and performers). Don’t be afraid to include some random (and unfair) elements that will shake up the show! An outside character whose job is to find what is the show lacking can really benefit this format. Are the people not engaging enough? Come on stage and change the rules of the game, or offer new drinks/punishments! Some performers are crushing the rest? Come out and make it harder for them! “Ohh, you a very talky-talky. The next time I hear you using more than 5 words I’ll shower you with beer!”, “ABC seems to be very easy for you in English, let’s see how you manage in Danish!”.
How can we make it more engaging for the audience?
Performing this format without audience participation feels as bad as being the only drunk person in a party. But don’t worry, let’s explore together the ways we can make this more engaging!
As many games involve drinking, you can gauge your crowd to see if we can involve them. Needless to say, do it in a mindful way. Make sure that nobody feel pressured to drink. Always ask for consent and disclaim what is required for the participation. We need hosts able to keep the pace and spirit of the show without compromising the public’s integrity. On this format, hosts are also empowered to handle some heckling. We are already being loud and wrong anyway!
There are many ways to make them participate. Splitting the crowd into several teams helps a lot. Some of the punishments and games can involve a performer drinking a big amount before some audience members finishes drinking a small amount each. Let’s get the team spirit going, so people can cheer each other!
As a way to promote buying drinks, we can offer discounts during the intermission for the winning team side of the crowd. Or free/discounted drinks for the people participating in games. Offering themed drinks to support each team is also a perk, like Red Martini and Grey Vodka. We can give extra points at the end to the team who sold most drinks. Theatre managers will LOVE this format!
There is nothing more engaging than delivering a funny and crazy show, creating an experience in line with our goal! Make participants feel supported regardless of their suggestion, and celebrate when they are bold enough to suggest something inappropriate. That’s the point of the show! Train your performers to create situations where people are suggested to fill the gap with something naughty!
Games that work great and how to modify them.
Let’s go through the different kind of short form games you can use, and some modifications to make them more competitive! Having rules that are easy to understand (and to fail) gives us more ways to give punishments! Just keep in mind, this is not about ridiculizing a performer but putting some (the ones who enjoy and can handle it) on the spot! We don’t win the game beating our opponents, but delivering the funniest experience.
On witty games (like 185 or Worlds worst), I think it works best if we allow performers to jump in as soon as they feel ready. This way, teams that are on their toes would get rewarded! Captains should address if only few performers participate by making it harder. Challenges like forcing an accent, limiting the number of words or having to rhyme are hilarious to watch!
Justification games (like Interrogation or Dubbed movie) can be performed by a team with time constraints or a very subjective point system. The other team (or only the captain) can add new elements to the scene. The players have to find a way to justify things like props or scene painting the background. Seeing how they are distracting their rivals is also funny by itself!
Guessing games (such as The party or Chain Murder) can be done with the other team helping the audience to inspire suggestions. The time limit can also be defined by some activity: like finishing before the other team drinks or eats something. Or how long can hold a plank one of the team members! I always love when we include more physicality on stage! There is something really funny on seeing people pushing their limits.
Scene games (like Pillars or Should have said) can be performed by players of both teams, scoring based on performance. Or done by the same team, while being challenged by their rivals. If both teams participate, the hosts should focus on getting the performers out of their head!
Have you been to a show with this format?
Ok! No more! I really love theorizing about my hobbies to the point where I have squeezed all the fun out of it.
So, please, let me know what you think about this kind of improv! Have you been part of a show like this? What did work for you? Have you seen this style before?