Let’s find out about Cambridge Impronauts President, Persephone Emily. What entertains her, and what makes her want to entertain?
Persephone, you got involved with The Cambridge Impronauts pretty early on – I think your first long-form with us was in 2018 as guests of Dogface in Norwich with a slightly spooky show. What do you remember of that, and how did it compare to the shows you’d done before?
I remember that less than an hour before the show, I smacked my head on the ceiling because the venue was a weird cellar thing. Everything after that is a complete blank. Maybe I should see a doctor about that?
That was my first long-form show ever; so in addition to being potentially concussed, I had to keep track of more than I was used to in an Improv show. But it was really fun! And it was a great introduction to long-form narrative because the audience was almost entirely other improvisors so I felt like even if I forgot a name or what was going on, they would be forgiving.
I understand that the Impronauts are not the first, nor the last Improv troupe you’ve been a part of – what can you tell me about the others? What do you see as the advantages of playing with different groups?
I have been a part of so many troupes in my day!
When I lived in San Francisco, my troupe, Minor Odyssey, was a really small group (4 of us in total). It created a really nice dynamic because we all got to know each other really well. I got super comfortable with them and was able to do a lot more physical comedy than I’m usually inclined to do. We also had a director, which was really nice because it was the first time I’d properly performed Improv so it was nice to have a guiding force and teacher.
In London, my troupe, Margaret!, met in an Improv class. There are 14 of us in total but people dip in and out depending on what else is going on in their lives. I love that we met in a class because we all have the same knowledge base to draw from. 14 people is quite a lot, but it’s a completely static group — we’ve never lost or gained a member since becoming a troupe — so we’ve all become close friends. It was also nice because we met shortly after I moved to the UK so they were some of my first friends here.
Here in Cambridge, in addition to the Impronauts, I’m a member of Stealing the Show. We do an improvised heist. There are 6 of which is a lovely size because if anyone’s not available, the show can go on, but we typically all perform together! The team is so lovely and I absolutely adore performing with them and look up to each of them as improvisors (and people). Also, because we do a heist every time, I’m never worried about format so I have fun playing with the content.
Performing and learning with different troupes exposes me to a lot of different styles of Improv and humour, which is obviously great! Also, almost all my favourite people in the world are improvisors: improvisors are the best people. And being in a bunch of troupes lets me meet more improvisors.
You’ve also written and performed sketch comedy. How do the Improv and the Scripted worlds compare for you?
I’m much less nervous before an Improv show than a sketch show I’ve written. In a sketch show, the audience knows that you had time to prepare and picked the funniest lines/premises you could think of. That terrifies me because it feels like I’m showing them the inside of my head and my true sense of humour. While in improv there’s a theory that the audience is laughing 50% at the character/premise/lines and 50% at the improvisor struggling to come up with it on the spot. Which to me means the audience will always laugh at Improv because they’ll always see me trying to figure out what to say next. (Also you don’t have to memorise lines in Improv which is a huge blessing. I’ve noticed that a lot of improvisors are in STEM and I would bet that’s part of the reason.)
What advice would you give to people interested in moving from one to the other?
If you want to make the switch from sketch to Improv, my advice would be: don’t overthink. The benefit of sketch is there’s time to write and rewrite but that luxury doesn’t exist in Improv. You just have to say whatever comes to your head and commit to it. And if you’ve successfully written a comedy sketch, you clearly have some humour in you so have confidence in that and you’ll be fine!
If you want to switch from Improv to sketch, I’d say you’re already a lot of the way there. Just improvise a few sketches and record them, then write them down and rewrite them until they’re as funny as they can be. And if you have a premise in mind, you can tell your partner beforehand so.
Quite soon after joining the Impronauts, you were elected Troupe Director. What was involved in that role, and how did you approach it? What was the biggest surprise? Do you feel that there was one particular idea that you really wanted to empower the Impronauts with?
That role was so much work! I planned and ran weekly rehearsals, organised our fortnightly QuickFires, organised May Ball performances, and much more.
I don’t think there was anything that was a big surprise in the role; I think maybe I surprised myself by how much I actually knew about Improv. I had so much fun thinking about what we needed to work on and planning the rehearsals. It was also a great way to get to know everyone in the troupe!
You tried to help build an emotional connection between the members themselves – why did you feel that was important?
I think the easiest way to have chemistry on stage is to have chemistry in real life. The better you know someone you’re performing with, the easier it is to build something together. Improv is about creating a world and truly believing that world. If you trust your cast mates, you can fully allow yourself to be in the moment. And so many more clichés.
Basically, it’s more fun to perform with people you want to be around and you know well. And improv is all about having fun.
Finally, please pitch me a show!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Keeping Up with the Improv”: an improvised reality show! I think it would be so fun to get to play reality show stars.
Sounds great! [Will I have to learn who the Kardashians are? -Editor]