Spotlight: Helena Forrow

We asked Impronaut Helena Forrow about creating an online Improv show, and what it’s been like performing online.

You recently Conceived, Directed, and Starred in The Cambridge Impronauts RAG Fundraiser: “Weird Ass Podcast: The Case of the Extra-Terrestrial House Plants”. How would you describe the format, and what was it like putting the show together?

Weird Ass Podcast cover screen

The format is a “mystery investigation podcast”. Four Impronauts volunteered to do a show for Cambridge RAG and the others asked me to ‘direct’. At first, I thought we would just do some short-form games but I wondered if there was some way being on Zoom could be a feature rather than a bug. I had recently listened to a podcast called Reply All and that seemed to lend itself. I thought we could have two ‘presenters’, and the other two improvisers would be a cast of various guests/interviewees. The mystery and the names of the guests would be suggested by the audience. The team liked the idea and listened to the episode of Reply All (“The Case of the Missing Hit”) which was my inspiration.

Helena and Damian as Hosts on the Show

We workshopped it a bit, with different combinations of improvisers being presenters and being guests. I actually really liked both roles but others had a strong preference so in the end the one that aired had me and Damian as presenters, and Jack and Barney as guests.

My only reservation about the whole thing was that RAG wanted something pre-recorded for technical reasons. We were making it up on the spot using suggestions we asked for on Facebook, but we knew nobody was actually watching us at the time. I think that changes the energy a little, and sort of feels like cheating. I think if Zoom meetings weren’t so mentally exhausting we would have liked to do some more run-throughs, but we are considering keeping the format on and putting out some more “Weird Ass Podcast” shows. [Ed: we’ve already been asked whether it’s a series!]

Any favourite moments or bits you’re glad were only in rehearsal?

Barney in with a "Space Helmet"
Barney on the Space Station

There were a lot of great guest characters. The improvisers who were playing guests had a stack of hats and accessories to put on when playing different characters, which really showed the incredible extent of Barney’s wardrobe. There was a robotic ape statue deus ex machina plot point that I think would have gone over audience’s heads if it had aired 😉 

How did you start out in Improv?

I was looking for games to get my students speaking and having fun, and I found a list of Improv games. I thought they looked too good for my students, I wanted to play them myself. At the time, the only Improv groups in Cambridge were one who offered paid for classes, or the Impronauts with free open workshops. And here we are. 

Tell me about the last time you improvised on a real stage. 

Jack and a drawing of a flower
Jack and the Alien

Hmm. Time has lost all meaning and I can’t figure out the chronology of what would actually be the last time I improvised on stage. I think it might have been another charity thing for a group last summer who were doing a fundraising day against slavery/trafficking.

My advice for any Improv groups doing charity fundraisers is just forget about trying to have the charity’s aim incorporated into the set whatsoever. We once did a show at a Climate and Sustainability Forum event and the organisers had asked us to somehow theme it about climate collapse and include this certain list of terrifying facts. We just had to say…that isn’t going to work. Climate collapse can’t be mined for comedy, just like Earth shouldn’t be mined for fossil fuels… Anyway, I digress.

I really can’t wait to be on stage properly again: the energy from hearing and seeing audience reactions just can’t be matched by seeing YouTube comments appear or just joking into the abyss.

It seems that you really dived into training and performing online – what advice would you give to someone unsure about making that move?

It isn’t as good as in person, of course, but once you get used to it it’s better than nothing. Keep the groups smallish. We found for a lot of games it’s good to stick a number in your username.

Move around if you can, or there are fun effects you can get by moving the webcam/laptop around too. Things that wouldn’t be very good on stage, like this podcast for example, do work on screen. There are ways to make it a feature. 

Pitch me your next show!

Probably another episode of Weird Ass Podcast. Send us your suggestions for titles (The Case of [BLANK])!

Thanks Helena – We can’t wait!