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Meet the Cambridge Impronauts, the UK student improv troupe touring Florida to raise $100,000 for charity

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The Cambridge Impronauts are an improvised comedy troupe made up of current and former Cambridge students and residents.

Ordinarily they put on shows in Cambridge –  and once a year at the Edinburgh Fringe – but for the first time ever this July they’re embarking on a month-long tour of Florida. With this tour, called Laughter is the Best Medicine, they’re hoping to raise more than $100,000 for different charities. We had a chat with co-directors Adi George and Jack Lawrence about the tour, making friends, and what improv means to them.

Peering into a Skype videocamera from the Florida beach house serving as headquarters of the ongoing tour, the co-directors of Laughter is the Best Medicine seem pretty pleased with how things are going. Their tour, organised and supported by the non-profit integrative medicine clinic Next Step Institute of Integrative Medicine, has already raised thousands of dollars. This will be split between various charities including the National Association for the Children of Addiction, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. So how did a group of Cambridge students end up performing halfway across the world to raise money for these charities?

‘We had the great opportunity to meet Gary Weiss’ Lawrence tells me, ‘and he suggested that we could assist him and his organisation, the Next Step Institute of Integrative Medicine, a non-profit, in doing a fundraising tour in Florida.

‘It seemed like the perfect idea,’ he continues, ‘because summer in Florida is something of a theatre dead-season. He’d seen a lot of our shows and had faith in us, that we would be able to deliver some fantastic content.’

‘We like to think that the reason why he chose us,’ George says, ‘is because improvisation at its core is a joyful process of saying yes and being accepted and supported, and he really wanted to spread joy in aid of these charities. That’s why we’ve titled this tour Laughter is the Best Medicine. A lot of our audiences are people whose lives are very difficult for a number of reasons, and we’re trying to reach those people and make them laugh or smile even for a few hours. Gary seemed to believe what we believe, which is that improvisation does that in spades.’

‘And at the same time if we can raise money to sustain some medical research or therapy that assists these people then we’re maximising the good we can do with comedy,’ Lawrence adds.

Laughter is the Best Medicine co-directors Adi George (left) and Jack Lawrence

The co-directors tell me, with a brief look at each other, that they began scheduling shows and organising transport more than 400 days ago. It’s clear that over the past year a lot of work has gone into preparation for this tour, which takes in 12 shows across Florida and includes a number of meet and greet events and collaborations with local comedy troupes.

There are 12 impronauts on tour – 11 performers and a pianist – who will form a rotating cast for each of the two-hour long shows. ‘We’ve spent the last year preparing a wide range of styles of improv and of different structures and formats,’ says George, ‘so we can deliver the most varied two-hour show possible to a Florida audience.’

‘We thought this was a chance to showcase how we do improv in the UK,’ Lawrence says, ‘and give the audience a fresh take on something they might be familiar with.’

I ask how the troupe has been preparing, if the show is improvised every night.

‘People always ask how we can rehearse a show if we’re making it up every night,’ replies George, ‘and the best analogy we can think of is to compare the troupe to a football team. When it comes to match day, i.e. our shows, we know that we’re going to have to improvise and we’re going to have to adapt to whatever we end up doing, but there are still exercises and drills and skills we can practise in preparation for that game, so that when we get there the skills that we’re using to improvise our show are as sharp as can be. An example of a typical skill we have is the basic improv rule of ‘yes, and’. Whatever your partner says in a scene, you have to agree with, and then build on so you can go about creating things.’

I ask if the tour might become a regular fixture for the Impronauts, and the two seem cautiously hopeful. While George says he is ‘reservedly optimistic’, Lawrence maintains that they won’t know until the tour is over. ‘Obviously if it’s a success, and it looks like it could be one of those things that could be done repeatedly, then we’d love to leave that legacy behind. But this has been a unique melting pot, and we couldn’t have done it without Next Step, so we’ll have to see.’

In the meantime, do they have any advice for students thinking about giving improv a go in the next academic year?

‘I definitely think they should try it,’ Lawrence says immediately. ‘One of the reasons I think improv is fantastic is that it’s very naturally playful – it’s an extension of playing make-believe as a kid. To an extent, every interaction you have is improvised – you make up conversations every day. For me it’s a way of feeling creatively free and having a really collaborative environment, something playful, that gets you out of your head. I also think if you’re nervous about trying improv then there’s potentially the greatest benefit for you in doing it. I certainly know it’s made me more confident, and it’s given me some of my best friends.’

At this, he grins at George, who adds: ‘Improv gave me my tribe. So much of university is about finding your place and figuring out what you believe in and who your friends are, and I think that through improv I was able to find my place. So in addition to what Jack said about confidence-boosting, which is completely true, it is also just a great way to meet people and laugh together.’

 For more info about Laughter is the Best Medicine and the charities it's raising money for, see the tour website here. To learn more about the Cambridge Impronauts click here. 

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