An invitation arrived in Cat Dance’s inbox a few days ago: the Recchia would be missing many of its improvisers for their Friday show, and they needed a few folks to fill in. I was among the Cats who accepted.

Unlike Cat Dance’s Harold Night shows, in which the audience consists primarily of improv students and performers, the Recchia’s audience includes a sizable percentage of people who are going to an improv show for the first time. That demographic shift results in an audience with questions that many attending a Harold Night might not have, the most obvious one being whether the people on stage are actually working without a script. The Recchia’s success has been in honing a format that allows them to demonstrate that they are working without a script and are nevertheless able to construct entertaining scenes.

The first half of the show begins with warming up the audience by having folks share facts about their days and then proceeds with an audience member drawing the name of another audience member from a jar. The person whose name is drawn from the jar joins the improvisers on stage for an interview, and the improvisers create a number of scenes inspired from the interview. This level of audience engagement instills confidence that the improvisers are getting their material for the show during the show itself.

The scenes provide an opportunity to build on that confidence. To gain trust that it is improvised, a scene should not only be engaging, but the audience wants a clear indication that the information inspiring the scene has been repurposed from earlier in the show, perhaps a previous scene or the interview itself. By contrast, a Harold audience might be more willing to forgive a scene in which the tie to an earlier element is more subtle.

The format of the second half of the show relies on a relatively abridged audience suggestion, i.e. no interview, and I think this is in part because the improvisers have used the first half of the show to earn that audience’s trust. In other words, I don’t think a show structure that swapped the order of the first and second half could be as effective with this target audience.

With these points in mind, I consciously played differently from how I tend to during a Harold, and it was a lot of fun. The interview was so rich, and after the show, Mike and I enumerated a lot of other information we could have pulled had the blackout for the first half happened later. The second half presented a number of opportunities to explore the universe the characters were in, and it was cool to try out that format for the first time. Perhaps my favorite part was thanking the audience as they left the theater.

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