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Improv team smiling in front of audience after a show

Balancing Gimmick and Theatre: Kerfuffle at Brighton Fringe

  • by Viki Jackson

Kerfuffle are our high energy, super silly improv team. Originally cast to perform Theatresports, a a show format that uses wrestling style theatrics and short form improv, so it's in their blood to be playing for laughs and incorporating silliness into their performances. When you see Kerfuffle you expect to see big bold characters, callbacks and surreal scenes.

After performing Theatresports for three years we wanted a new format, something with more scenes. We enjoyed the fake microphone props and outfits we had during our Camden Fringe show last August so wanted more props. But nothing that would end up as a gimmick, taking away from the improv.

With any show, it's important to ask if something is needed or if it detracts from what you are trying to achieve.

The format we created is Scenes From A Hat, With Hats. The “scenes from a hat” format has been around for years, you simply ask audience to write down suggestions for scenes they'd like to see before the show, then pop them in a hat and throughout the show you read them off, perform a scene and repeat. Simple. But we wanted more! So we added “With Hats”. Meaning our scenes involved hats. Lots of hats. In fact, four hat stands full of hats. The hats have the ability to elevate character choices as well as the opportunity to play with recognisable characters in strange places.

You don't need to do the set up of playing a Santa character if you are wearing a Santa hat, the audience already have their assumptions about them so you can jump right into the scene.

We experimented with different types of hats, thinking about the different types of characters that can be played with a single hat. For example a fedora leading to a film noir style or a fashion influencer whilst a black baseball cap could be a security guard, a street thug or a teenager. We also experimented with subverting expectations of characters and not playing the obvious stereotypes so we had an elf who wanted a gift of their own. We also begun playing with how the hats could appear as other objects in scenes such as puppets.

As we developed our hour long show, we added in some short form games involving hats. These were added so we could introduce the audience to the idea of improv as well as how hats were being used in the show. They gave us the ability to use a lot of the hats at once, discover interesting characters and get the audience settled into the weird and wonderful worlds we create. The games we adapted to suit hats were:

Pan Left - four improvisers stand in a square formation with the two at the front performing a scene. When the “conductor” says Pan Left, they all take a step to the left to rotate the square. To begin, the improvisor was given a hat at random by other improvisers and the audience suggested a location where you may see two people in their specific hats.

Swap - three improvisors select a hat and the audience suggests where the scene takes place. Each time the conductor says Swap, they switch places and take on the hat and character the other improvisers was doing. This game is lead by big and bold character choices and ends up very chaotic.

Job Interview - The audience suggests a job we are interviewing for. One by one an improvisor has a short interview with the interviewer and their character is dictated by the hat they are wearing.

What we learnt developing our new format:

  • The improv is the most important part of the show, if you can’t see a hat to suit your character or scene, don’t use a hat

  • Take your time, you don’t need to run and grab a hat and deliver your fantastic line at super speed

  • Some things work with the added hats, some done. You can’t just put a hat into every improv game

Improv team performing on stage in silly hats having a kangaroo fight Improv team performing on stage in silly hats Improv team smiling in front of audience after a show

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