About Improvised Theatre & BATS-Style Improv
What is “improvised theatre” anyway?
Simply put, improvised theatre is theatre that’s created on the spot without a script.
What is BATS-style improv?
The BATS style of improvised theatre is unique in the improv landscape — a one-of-a-kind blend of theatre, comedy, and acting that’s quite different from stand-up or sketch. We pioneered this form of theatre more than 30 years ago, and it continues to evolve as we do.
The BATS style of improv has been described as radical cooperation in action. Our ensemble of actors seamlessly works together to create a rich, theatrical world inhabited by truthfully acted, well-developed characters. The result is a unique and thrilling theatre experience that stands toe-to-toe with scripted work. The collaborative imagination can go places the solitary imagination cannot.
At BATS Improv, we’re all about the story, not jokes. We don’t have stock characters or established bits. Instead, we aim to create theatre that tells a story collaboratively and spontaneously. You may find yourself touched enough to cry. More likely, you’ll laugh until you cry. Everything you see at BATS is created on the spot and in the moment. It’s real. It’s funny. It’s theatre.
See BATS in action →
What is “shortform” improv?
Our shortform shows (usually on Friday), like our signature competition TheatresportsTM, are fast-paced, exciting, and highly interactive. This form of improvised theatre is filled with scenes, songs, games, and lots of audience suggestions and participation. In our shortform shows, our actors generally get a new suggestion before each scene, and each scene, song, or game is its own complete story. If you like variety, high energy, and lots of different stories in one night, our Friday shows are for you.
What is “longform” improv?
Our longform shows (usually on Saturday) are full-length, narrative, genre-driven stories based on audience suggestions. We present our longform shows in a variety of genres and styles throughout the year. In our longform shows, our actors generally get several suggestions at the beginning of the show and use those suggestions as their inspiration in creating a single story that unfolds like a play or a film. BATS longform shows are an exhilarating and impressive form of improvised theatre created and developed by our own Main Stage Company actors.
What is Theatresports? What is the Harold? What is . . . ?
We use many different shortform and longform formats throughout the year as the structure for the games and stories we create. Some involve rules and mechanisms to help us unlock greater creativity; others are more genre, or theme, driven. And many were developed here at BATS by our own company members!
TheatresportsTM — Our signature improv competition
Theatresports is a fast-paced, exciting, and highly interactive night of improvised theatre competition, complete with Olympic-style judges. For each tournament, the BATS Main Stage Company splits into several teams. Every Friday during the tournament, two teams face off by performing scenes, games, and even musical numbers – all completely improvised and inspired by your suggestions. The team with the most points is declared the winner and moves one step closer to the championship match.
Director’s Cut! – Fast-paced improv, served raw, with consequences
In Director’s Cut! six improv directors do battle to bring their passion to life. To do so, they’ll need to get the work they want from their fellow improvisers by directing them – live in the moment. Actors can even be tossed out of a scene and replaced! If the director succeeds and creates a “hit,” you, the audience, can reward them with a star, but if they “flop,” you get to demand better by punishing them on the spot (no, really – a recent punishment required company member Ken Robertson to give his cell number to the entire audience so that they could text him to shape up). This is not just theatre, it’s theatre with consequences!
DuoProv – Our newest improv competition
In the first half of DuoProv, three teams of two improvisers — each representing their favorite genre — compete for the right to have the whole cast perform their genre in the second half. Each show is completely improvised and completely unique. Come root for your favorite genres and improvisers!
The Harold – Classic free-form improvisation
Completely based on your suggestions, our cast of talented improvisers create scenes, play games, and improvise songs as they seamlessly weave together a magical night of improvised theatre. There is no structure, there are no rules, and anything can happen! The Harold, popularized in Chicago improv circles, is considered by many to be the “grand-daddy of all improv formats” and was invented by Del Close right here in San Francisco! Now, BATS Improv is proud to bring the Harold back home.
Super Scene – Six genres in one night
Super Scene is a fast-paced, rip-roaring theatre competition featuring five directors creating five unique, completely improvised stories, each with a unique tone or genre, But there’s a catch – stories unfold one scene at a time, round by round. After each round, the audience gets to choose which stories continue on and which story is eliminated. This process continues, and the scenes evolve, until the final round, where only one story remains and the SUPER SCENE is performed.
Double Feature™ – Two stories, four actors
A cast of four talented improvisers (and one musician) spontaneously create two distinct stories, unique in genre, tone, and character – each story inpired by an original title supplied by the audience. The improvisers develop these stories scene by scene, seamlessly alternating storylines. Double Feature’s unique structure heightens the moment, and the fun, by requiring the improvisers to play multiple characters as they bounce back and forth between stories. Created by Company Member Rafe Chase, Double Feature is one of BATS most popular shows.
Family Drama – And you thought your family was hilariously weird!
Family Drama uniquely blends the compelling narrative of a three-act stage play with the excitement and surprise of improvisation. Like many traditional American plays, the story will unfold in real time, on a single set, and with each actor portraying only one character. But this drama is completely improvised – the only thing the actors know is that their characters are somehow related and that they are getting together for the holidays. The audience selects the title for the show, which inspires the relationships, themes, and stories. Everything else is created right in front of your eyes!
Improvised Holiday Musical – Perfect for the family
Snuggled between Christmas and New Year’s, our Holiday Musical is completely improvised fun for the whole family! Set during the holidays and inspired by your suggestions, our actors will create a full-length musical that will warm your heart and fill your belly with laughter.
The Naked Stage – Improvised theatre, pure and uncut
The charm and power of classic American theatre meets the exciting, unpredictable nature of improvisation. We can’t tell you what will happen or what the play will be about (since we won’t know until we’re doing it), but it’s sure to be some of the most crisp, theatrical, and side-splitting theatre ever created without a script!
Improvised Shakespeare, Film Noir, Western, Broadway Musical, Murdery Mystery, other genre
No, we haven’t found previously unpublished works of The Bard, Raymond Chandler, Sergio Leone, Rogers & Hammerstein, or Agatha Christie — but you’ll think we did! Starting with a title chosen by you, our skilled company creates a full-length play in the style and language of the genre. From Improvised Downton Abbey to Improvised Trek, these themed shows are among our most popular.
What? More questions?
Have more questions about BATS shows, how to plan your visit, or anything else related to our shows? Check out Shows & Schedule and Show FAQs. If they don’t give you what you need, feel free to contact us.