Thursday 21 February 2019

At The Movies - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

With all the chatter about the upcoming Academy Awards, let's spare a thought for the films that could only ever dream of even being considered. During the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Impro Melbourne are doing just that with At The Movies. The group of highly skilled improvisers are bringing out their own Hollywood magic with audience members determining which B-grade movie they would like to see acted out. The catch is, the improvisers have never heard of the film and will only get to watch the first five minutes of it before taking over.

Director of At The Movies and ensemble member of Impro Melbourne Sarah Kinsella has previously performed this with Montreal Improv (who co-developed it with Vancouver’s Little Mountain Improv) and she is thrilled to be presenting it to Melbourne audiences. "I played this format at the Montreal Improv Festival and I had such a great time. It has a structure that is easy for the Improviser to jump into playing and for the audience to understand," she says. "Explaining how improv works is often difficult, particularly if it's a complicated format but this one is incredibly simple and hilarious."

As Director, Kinsella is in charge of which movies are considered but the process doesn't simply involve picking some random titles off a shelf. "I’ve spent a lot of time speaking to the team in Montreal about how to select the films, working out copyright issues and making sure we have movies that are going to be obscure enough that most people will never have heard about or seen them," she tells me. "Having said that, I am still working on which exact movies will be chosen!"

While improv is all created on the spot, much like athletes, there is a lot of practice and skill learning that takes place before a performance. With At The Movies, the cast have the good fortune of having a few minutes to discuss the film before its times for lights, camera and action. "At the start of the show, I’ll read out the synopsis of two movies. The audience will vote on which movie they want to see improvised and then we all watch the first five minutes of the film," Kinsella explains. "This is the first time the improvisers will hear or see the movie. After that the cast are invited up on stage to discuss what they saw, what genre the movie is and any information they think is relevant to the story, like names of characters. Then it's straight into playing out the rest of the movie. We do the same at rehearsals but we never repeat a movie!"

Kinsella has been an improviser for over twenty years, and the extraordinary skills she has developed are always evident whenever she takes to the stage. "I love the fast paced fearlessness of improv and it really is like a team sport. I met my partner Russell through improv and I have made so many great friends over the years. Most other members have known each other and performed with each other for years," she says. "I’ve been making a living from it for 15 years. There are so many different ways to use improv: long form (be that an ongoing soap-a-thon or a genre like a western), in corporate training, school gigs, public shows and mc work. It crosses over so many areas and most importantly it is always changing, challenging and super fun."

While it can be nerve-wracking to be on a stage and not having a script to guide you, there are a few simple rules that Kinsella keeps referring back to each time. "Improv requires you to be super present and you need to listen to your fellow players and build on each other's ideas. Often we overthink things and get up in our heads about what we should do rather than just do it," she tells me. 

"This show is on at 11pm and we only have an hour, so we don’t have time to second guess ourselves. It's important to go with your first impulse. We’re looking to build a story arc and to give each other a fun time up on stage. Most of us have been playing together for years. If the cast are laughing and smiling at each other, then we know we're doing a good job. Oh and it is Comedy Festival, so if the audience are laughing then you definitely know you’re doing a good job!"


1. Comedy is... great when it works.
2. If you had to name your child after a vegetable what would it be?


3. Which reality TV show would you most like to appear/compete on?

 Nailed It!
4. How long would you survive in a zombie apocalypse?
 Until the very end, I will do anything to survive.
5. I will stay sane during MICF by not drinking myself to death. 


Venue: Melbourne Town Hall, 100 Swanston St, Melbourne
Season: 29 March - 20 April | Fri - Sat 11pm
Length: 55 minutes 
Tickets: $22 Full | $17 Conc
Bookings: MICF website

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