Wham Bam Improv!

Audiences invited to participate with improvisational theatre at the Linen Hall Library. And if they don't like it, they don't pay

On Thursday, August 21, four actors will step onto the Linen Hall Library stage and commence their show. Their success depends partly on their ingenuity, but partly on the audience. 

While the actors onstage do their best to come up with a convincing performance, what they actually perform depends upon the audience’s suggestion. 

Rosie McClelland, Patrick Sanders, Katie Richardson and Paddy Wallace are Wham Bam Improv!, and all four are looking forward to the challenge. By allowing the audience to pay what they like for the performance, they have to work even harder to satisfy.

Patrick SaundersPatrick Sanders explains the difficulties of the genre: 

'I think some actors feel comfortable with improv, while others feel safer with a script. There's always that element of danger with improv, but also the excitement that you could stumble on something magical.' 

The people behind Wham Bam Improv! have one hour to create an entertaining programme together with the audience. Confident of their abilities, they promise a show before the night ends. With so much power on each side of the fourth wall, we can only hope that the leash won’t break. 

The group promises that the show will be light-hearted and fun. 'Nothing too serious,' says Sanders. 

'Some of the games we play require suggestions from the audience. Anyone who's seen Whose Line Is It Anyway will probably have a fair idea. But later on we may need those suggestions to help us create our own piece of theatre.' 

So what will it be like for the actors to depend on uncertain instructions? Katie Richardson looks forward to the experience: 

'Improv is something I have always been interested in. I took classes in New York and saw some amazing improvisations there, so I think it is a great thing to get some more of it in Belfast. 

'It's always good to have a challenge and the pressure will be on. I like being put on the spot and thinking on my feet. That's one of the main joys and excitements of live theatre, as far as I'm concerned.' 

Katie Richardson, Paddy Wallace, Patrick Sanders and Rosie McClellandImprovisational theatre has little representation in Belfast. If everything works out, Wham Bam Improv! could herald a theatrical revival akin to Shakespeare's era, when audience interference was not only tolerated but openly encouraged. 

Perhaps audiences consider improv outdated. Channel 4's Whose Line Is It Anyway was pulled from schedules 10 years ago. Even American TV networks buried their version in 2003. 

There are, however, calls on the internet to bring the show back. Facebook has recruited a group of 8,577 members so far to petition a revival of the programme and figures are rising. MySpace is following suit. 

But the TV show has a big flaw. While sitting on the couch and eating crisps, television audiences only get half the deal. If improvisational theatre is supposed to break down this division, it belongs with the crowds and not behind a screen. Wham Bam Improv! is a chance to celebrate the revival of an ailing artform. 

Scharonna Kroener 

Wham Bam Improv! is a pay what you like event, taking place in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, on August 21. 

Check out the Linen Hall Library website for more information and ticket booking.