Carlo Richie, the Artistic Director of the new Improv Theatre in Redfern, took the time out to have a virtual chat and fill me in on the new space, the shows and his experiences in comedy, enjoy!


Joy – Sydney has a long history with improv – theatre sports have been popular for thirty years – where did people train in the past – or was it a baptism of fire?

Carlo – Sydney definitely has a strong history of what we call “Short form” improv, the theatresports style of improvised theatre and for a lot of us at ITS, this was our starting point. Prior to ITS, Improv Australia was Sydney’s mainstay of Improv education and we maintain a very tight relationship with the team there. About 12 years ago, one of our founders, Cale Bain brought what we call “Chicago Style” or “Long Form” improv over to Sydney and started getting improvisers to slow down, creating emotional scene work as opposed to quickfire theatresports style stuff. So for most Long Form improvisers, myself included, training started with Cale. 

Joy – How did you become involved in improv? 

Carlo – When I was at Sydney Uni I would go every week to Manning Bar to see Theatresports, it was my first year living in Sydney and I thought it was absolutely fantastic. One particular week, a visiting improv duo from Canada, “Scratch” came to perform and after seeing them, I was hooked. I show up to rehearsals the next week and have been improvising ever since. My first improv teacher was Steen Raskopoulos and we went on to start “The Bear Pack” together a few years later, funny how the whole thing comes together, sometimes. 

Joy – How are the weekly shows at the new space in Redfern going to be curated, will they be performed by an in-house group or will you ask for submissions from performers across Sydney? 

Carlo – A combination of both, at the moment we’re having some of our performers design and create new formats which will have regular rotations. For example our current weekly show “Sandpit” which is on every Wednesday night, opens its second half to submissions from graduates to trial new formats and show ideas, so every week there’s something new and exciting. Our weekend slots will operate in a similar way, having short seasons open to submission with different troupes and formats. We’ll also have regular weekly shows with our in house ensemble, perhaps even programming that builds a story week to week, watch this space. 

Joy – Is throwing minties into the audience copyrighted? Do you have an alternative? 

Carlo -We tried giving away ornate ceramic vases but too many people got hurt.  

Joy – Are you basing the space in Redfern on any particular model? The Americans and Canadians have been doing this for a long time too, turning out some of the best comedians in recent times. 

Carlo – The American/Canadian model is definitely an inspiration, particularly the incorporation of school and theatre as you see with Second City or IO. I love the idea of students finishing class, grabbing a drink and then watching improv. We’re also drawing a lot of inspiration from one of my favourite venues, The Basement in NZ, in creating a fun, warm space where people want to hang out before and after shows. 

Joy – What are your hopes for achieving with the new space? 

Carlo – Sydney hasn’t had a dedicated improv space in its history, so that’s already an exciting achievement for us. Our foremost goal with the school has been to make improv inclusive and create a space where everyone can feel safe, supported and have fun and that will be the same attitude we take on in setting up this space. I also love the idea of creating a space where people can go any night of the week without any idea of what’s on knowing that whatever it is, it will be great.  

 A big thanks to Carlo, and to keep up with what’s on at the Improv Theatre, check out:

This Month in Sydney

8 - 26 January

Sydney Festival

Sydney – various

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Every January, Sydney Festival starts the new year with a bang, transforming the city with a bold cultural celebration based on critical ideas and cutting-edge art and performance.

More than any other cultural event, Sydney Festival defines Sydney’s personality. For over four decades we have presented international artists who guarantee headlines, and whose presence in Sydney adds to the Festival’s buzz and prestige, including names like Björk, Brian Wilson, Grace Jones, Manu Chao, Elvis Costello, AR Rahman, Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Lepage, The Flaming Lips, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Peter Sellars, Sir Ian McKellen and David Byrne & St. Vincent. Some of the world’s great companies – Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, Cheek by Jowl, Gate Theatre and The Wooster Group to name only a few – also share the Festival with the most exciting artists and companies in Australia.

Sydney Festival’s audacious contemporary programming positions it at the forefront of arts practice in Australia and up there as one of the most wonderful festivals in the world. (from Sydney Festival website)