It’s been a long time since I’ve seen improv in any form, other than when my girlfriend and I make up new lyrics to existing songs so they’re about our dogs instead. But I digress. I’ve missed it. Improv gets such a bad rap in pop culture for being cringey, and a lot of it is. But that’s kind of what I love about it. Watching people make things up and work through imagined problems on stage is fun. It’s so brave.
And there’s nothing like sharing laughter with a group of strangers all at once. The experience gives off its own sort of electric energy.
The cast of Tilted Frame @ Home, John Baumgaertner, Diana Brown, Misa Doi and Jaimie Paulson, definitely brought the energy to this livestreamed, virtual improv show. The performers provided an almost manic energy to the screen to capture some of that familiar magic buzz of anticipation in the audience just before a performance begins. But they never quite managed to transfer that energy across the digital divide. And with thin, tinny sound quality, their enthusiastic, raised voices were sometimes difficult to decipher.
Despite the physical divide, the Tilted Frame @ Home team did play around with the new capabilities that come with a digital format. Fun title cards flew in and out for whimsical introductions to new games. However, there were times when effects felt extraneous or out of place. They could have been skipped without losing any substance.
Audience suggestions were also displayed on screen, a welcome increase in accessibility for attendees, although the exhilaration of shouting out a suggestion was lost in the format.
Improv requires community and physical energy. For Tilted Frame @ Home, the audience could only participate via chat. However, the chat wasn’t accessible in the full screen view. This created a huge gap between the audience and the performers which is almost antithetical to improv. Also, the cast joined together virtually for the performance, which resulted in feeling disjointed and hollow. It’s difficult for a joke to land when four people are calling in at once.
I admire the effort to play with new formats and test how far the digital boundaries could stretch in Tilted Frame @ Home. Ultimately, I think improv requires at least some shared physical space to really shine.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival takes place June 4-19. For more information, show descriptions, a schedule and tickets, visit cincyfringe.com.