If you like to be creative and if you are currently after a hobby, then look no further. Located on Meyers Lane, a tiny Melbourne street tucked in between Spring and Exhibition, you’ll find Improv Conspiracy. An organisation that both teaches and performs improvisation and sketch comedy.
Last week I attended one of its regular shows, Harold Night, and it was more than what I expected. There was an audience of about 40 people, all sitting in rows of seven behind one another, waiting for the house team to make their way to the stage. Before I knew it seven people had taken to the stage and were asking for word suggestions, with one particularly loud person shouting “acrylic”. From this came a multitude of performances, from a scene of rabies taking over a body, to surfers discussing politics, to one student asking another student on a date during a university lecture. Not once, over the hour long show, did anyone pause unsure as to what to do next.
This is perhaps because they have been training in their classes for this very thing. Students pay about $500 per level in an attempt to learn how to “find the game”. Laura Buskes, the assistant creative director at Improv Conspiracy, told D*scribe that this follows the Del Close method of improvisational comedy. To those who are fans of the art, this name might seem familiar and that is because Close was mentor and friend to some of the most famous comedians of the past 50 years; Amy Poehler, Gilda Radner, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey to name just a few. He taught them how to best perform long-form comedy and since then this methodology has found its way to Melbourne.
What they talk about most when teaching this form of performance is “finding the game”. What they mean by this is being able to find the funny thing in the scene and then keeping that as the foundation and building on it. That way you can stick to that one thing rather than having a nonsense scene full of a multitude of conflicting ideas. Each scene continues until someone in the team decides it should end; this decision seemingly comes through some sort of understood, telepathic communication. The kind that you build after doing these classes and shows with people until you understand each other’s performing practices on a cellular level.
All types of people take these classes. Buskes said only about 20 per cent of the people who participant use the class to better their own comedy.
“We get actors, stand-ups, doctors, lawyers, software engineers; people from all walks of life,” she said.
Buskes founded the company when she was trying to help a friend find places to further their own comedy. When they turned improv down, she took it up. That was six years ago and, when she isn’t performing herself, she teaches some of the classes. She can understand why people come once and then keep coming back.
“I’d say that a majority of people come because they saw a show once, or it’s a New Year’s resolution, or a friend has done it and then got them to do it. So they just give it a go and they have a lot of fun and can just let go,” she said.
Buskes told D*scribe that, even if you don’t want to be a performer, or if you don’t want to be in comedy as a career, the classes are still worthwhile. For something that is all about ‘faking it until you make it’ and ‘rolling with the punches’, it can absolutely prepare you for life while teaching you important skills such as working in a team and how to use your creative thinking.
“I hear people say at the end that ‘I just feel so much more confident’ or like ‘I made a lot of friends’ and even just find a new passion or hobby,” Buskes said.
For people who are considering taking the course but are still unsure, Improv Conspiracy also offers Taster Sessions. These are free sessions, one each month, that people can use to see if they like it before signing up to the actual eight-week course.
“If you are thinking about it, I’d say just go for it. It is so much easier than it sounds and it just much fun,” Buskes said.