Interview: Ripley Improv discuss Encounter, improvised series 'As We Go Along', and upcoming Halloween party
All-female collective Ripley Improv have quickly become one of the premier acts in the Los Angeles improv scene. After a slew of praised performances, they decided to take things one step further with the improvised series As We Go Along. Instead of the stage, the group improvised five stories with a film crew following their every move.
Starting on October 4, they’ll unveil their new live show Encounter, which is influenced by sci-fi films Alien, Arrival, and Annihilation. With a suggestion from the crowd, they’ll embark on a new adventure every single Friday night at the Impro Studio. The collective will also deliver an immersive party in downtown Los Angeles on Halloween night.
Encounter co-directors Sara Mountjoy-Pepka and Madi Goff talk about prepping for their new show, their forthcoming improvised series, and what awaits people at their Halloween party.
With the group's namesake coming from Ellen Ripley, how exciting is it to finally do something based in their world?
Ripley Improv: We are beyond excited to bring those stories to life. It’s as intimidating as it is thrilling. With Encounter, we hope to honor the genre and do the source material justice. All of the Ripleys have improvised sci-fi and/or horror/suspense, so it’s not an unfamiliar genre. But there is some extra pressure when it’s your namesake! Not to mention, it’s extra difficult when the genre has a mystery “what is this unknown thing?!” element. Mystery is hard enough for writers sitting in front of their computers with an outline and an active delete key. We have neither! We rely on our training as storytellers as well as extensive research. We’ve watched, re-watched, and analyzed the source material (Alien, Arrival, Annihilation), as well as researched specific concepts in the science. We have an entire library of TedTalks from women astronomers, physicists, biologists, chemists, engineers, etc. with weekly assignments to watch and re-watch those talks. The Ripley’s are invested in excelling in every aspect of this new genre!
What's the process of picking a new genre to perform?
Ripley Improv: There is a pitch session where the Ripleys vote on what will become an official Ripley project and where it will fit in our calendar. Encounter was pitched over a year ago. We remember it on a wipe board next to Glam, which has already had two separate runs! So we’ve known Encounter was coming for a long time. The Ripleys have found that our new creative ideas need a safe space to grow unfettered by critique and “you shoulds”, so we keep them secret for as long as we can. We give projects code names that we discard as soon as they are announced to the public. For a while, we were naming projects after everyone’s cats. But now we’ve got so much going on...I guess we just need a lot more cats.
Outside of Encounter, Ripley Improv worked on their improvised series As We Go Along. How did this whole idea come about?
Ripley Improv: The idea initially came from Ripley member and As We Go Along director Kelly Lohman. Kelly’s vision was to invent everything in the moment: from characters to story to camera-work. Our improvised filmmaking is the culmination of our years of collaborative study in narrative improv. We took our specific style of storytelling and combined it with the incredibly detailed work of our cinematographer, production designer, hair and makeup team, and all of the helping hands that made it possible to shoot multiple, completely improvised short films/episodes over the course of one week.
What was it like working with the crew behind the scenes of the series?
Ripley Improv: Since the improv was the centerpiece of the series, working with the crew was an incredibly collaborative process. From pre-production to post production, the crew was vital to creating a strong foundation, so that we as improvisers could enter the set and build the story and characters on the spot through improv. In pre-production, Kelly (our series director) crowdsourced the improv suggestions from our donors, then worked with the heads of department to create set design, hair, makeup, and wardrobe looks based on the suggestions. She worked closely with our director of photography Kathryn Brillhart to workshop methods to capture the improvised dialogue and action without knowing what that action would be beforehand. Not having a script really creates a deeper level of collaboration and inventiveness!
How has Impro Theatre helped in the growth of Ripley Improv?
Ripley Improv: The Ripleys met and trained at Impro Theatre School. We are now a “Resident Guest” at Impro Studio, which provides us a place to rehearse and perform as an ensemble. The technical team at Impro elevates our stage shows to a supremely high level of excellence in theatricality. We get to have advanced improvisers developing shows with us on lights and sound, coming to rehearsals, and working closely with our Ripley directors. And for Encounter, we’ve pulled in another Impro Theatre Main Company member, Ryan Smith, (Madi Goff of Ripley is in the Impro Theatre Main Company) for some exciting theatrical elements that you’ll have to come see in person! Additionally, several of our crew members on the Ripley Series are from the Impro community. It’s a joyfully collaborative process throughout the life of our company. Ripley is so thankful for Impro, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the guidance and support of the Impro Main Company, Studio staff, and community!
Following the successful Night at the Capital event, Ripley Improv will be throwing a Halloween party in downtown Los Angeles. Much like Capital, the Halloween event will have an immersive experience. How important is it to deliver something more than a dance party?
Ripley Improv: For starters, it’s what we love to do. Stories inspire us. So of course we’re going to deliver some form of storytelling on Halloween night! Also, we know our fans love being engaged in this way. And it’s worth mentioning that those who don’t want to be engaged in this way will be able to hang back and enjoy. Whether you’re the one encountering the extraterrestrial or you’re sitting in the audience, we’re excited for our party goers to get a small taste of what it’s like to be a Ripley in an Encounter show!
With another amazing show coming up and a forthcoming series, is there anything else Ripley Improv want to accomplish?
Ripley Improv: We would absolutely love to have continued opportunities to shoot improvised narrative on film, and explore more and more improvised narrative genres on stage. Just this year we’ve “leveled up” by shooting our first film project, but we’re also innovating on stage with Encounter by including new tech and sound capabilities. We’re really excited to push ourselves to new heights in both mediums.
More information on Ripley Improv can be found on their website. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for more updates. Tickets for their Halloween dance party are on sale here. Tickets for their upcoming Encounter run can be purchased on Impro Studio’s website. Encounter takes place every Friday from October 4 through December 6.
Ripley Improv is Madi Goff (Impro Theatre Main Company), Laurie Jones (Wishbone Theatre Collective), Kelly Lohman (Vs. Theatre Company), Aliza Pearl (Geek & Sundry), Sara Mountjoy-Pepka (Jane Austen Improvised), Amanda Troop (Rage 2), and Jessica Lynn Verdi (Hyper RPG).