Improfestival Karlsruhe 2023 An opinionated review and intro to the formats presented

The annual Improfestival Karlsruhe has just been concluded, leaving behind a trail of laughter, creativity, and unforgettable moments. As the curtain closes and the last echoes of applause fade away, it’s time to share with you an in-depth overview of the 15 sensational shows that graced the stage. These performances brought together improvisers from across the globe, each contributing their unique talents and perspectives to create a diverse tapestry of entertainment.

In this post, I’ll not only delve into the essence of each show but also provide insights into the format that fueled their brilliance. From the heart-pounding narratives to the quirky setups and remarkable improvisational skills, we’ll explore it all. And, of course, I’ll be sharing my personal, subjective ratings for each performance, offering you a glimpse into what made these shows shine or where they may have faltered.

So, whether you’re an avid fan of improvisational theater or simply curious about the magic that unfolds on the stage, join me on this journey as we relive the moments, emotions, and creativity that defined the Improfestival Karlsruhe this year. Get ready to laugh, be moved, and perhaps even inspired by the boundless world of improvisational storytelling.


What it was about: A cozy gathering of friends, nestled around a crackling fire, weaving tales that dance between the realms of reality and fantasy. Welcome to “NeverFolk,” a concoction of imagination and camaraderie that beckons you to indulge in the ephemeral magic of improvised stories. It transports its audience into a world where folklore comes alive through more than just words. Instead, it dives headfirst into the realm of physicality, where the performers use their bodies to bring life to the narratives.

Directed by: Chris Mead

How it works: A friend group is sitting getting together in a common setting, telling each other of tales they all remember. The story is told by a collective, with players seamelessly switching between 3rd-person perspective nerrators and characters. After each story, they discuss the common lesson of that story.

Rating: 3.5/5 - It stands as a commendable display of shared storytelling. While a few tales might have leaned a touch too heavily into the realm of the fantastical it was a really enjoyable overall show. I already saw this format at Impro Amsterdam, where they additionally used some basic props. I think this can help to push that show to the next level, as it opens new ways for physicialty.

Whats on TV

What is about: Mix a soap opera drama on screen, including breakups and getting together over some wiredly intimate bonding based on cigerates, with a hospital budding realtionship. A patient who stubbornly refuses to leave the hospital, even in the presence of a daring hospital thief. And a doctor mesmerized for the first time by something “fun”. Why? Cue the improvised song Shame on people.

Directed/Played by TRE TING from Norway

How it works two skilled improvisers and a musician embark on a journey to simultaneously act out what’s happening on the TV screen and in reality, weaving a comedic tapestry.

Rating: 4/5 - This show brilliantly showcased the dry wit of Norwegian humor. Even in the midst of the most uproarious moments, the performers maintained their straight-faced composure, adding a layer of hilarity to the absurdity unfolding on stage.It seamlessly blended melodrama with comedy, delivering a performance that was both sidesplitting and oddly touching.

7 Deadly Sins

What it was about: Step into the enigmatic space inbetween and confront the sins that lurk within your soul. The suppressed aggression that simmers beneath the surface, the intensity that defines every climb, friendship, and relationship—this wrath is the sin we explore. In this experience, you’ll witness scenes from the main characters life unfold, dissecting the roots of his sin. No need to apologize; it’s time to uncover the truth. Even with all the world’s support and a saved life, the question lingers: Are you truly sorry, or is it all a facade?

How it works: The audience becomes the judge, selecting one of three candidates and their sin. An ominous voice serves as the guide, leading through scenes of the chosen character’s life, unraveling their sins and their looming circumstances of death.

Rating: 3/5 - The show’s overall idea was intriguing, drawing the audience into a world of introspection and self-discovery. The concept of suppressed aggression was well-executed in many instances, but there was an expectation for the explosive outburst that the setup hinted at. Some scenes ventured too far into the realm of fantasy, disconnecting from the storyline and making it challenging to connect with the real emotions of the characters. While the show had its moments, it left me waiting for a deeper emotional connection that never quite materialized. Nonetheless, “7 Deadly Sins” is an interesting exploration of the human psyche that warrants a watch.

The Song that Changed Me

What it was about: In a world where one song can be interpreted in countless ways, we embark on a journey to discover what “home” truly means. Whether it’s pirate ships sailing the high seas, a household teeming with cats, the comical trials of learning to fly an airplane with an excessively relaxed instructor, or the profound sensation of feeling left out in life—each scene explores a unique facet of this universal theme.

Directed by Laura

How it works: The audience suggests lines from songs, that are then cleverly woven into an improvised musical piece. The ensemble of improvisers then showcases their versatility by connecting in various ways to this music. Improvised interludes structure the scene changes.between scenes. Finally, a montage brings together the main themes in a harmonious crescendo.

Rating: 3.5/5 - The concept of “The Song That Changed Me” is undeniably brilliant, and the execution of individual scenes is well-crafted. However, the association between the music and the scenes left something to be desired, leaving me somewhat disconnected from the performance. The absence of recurring characters made it challenging to build emotional connections throughout the show. Nevertheless, the diverse interpretations of the theme were captivating, and the improvisers showcased their remarkable adaptability. With a bit more emphasis on musical connection, this show could soar to even greater heights.


What it was about In a dusty Wild West town, the sheriff’s son harbors dreams of becoming an outlaw, much to the chagrin of his law-abiding father, who envisions him as the next sheriff. Unimpressed by the local outlaws, the son seeks adventure in the town’s gold mine. Inside, he stumbles upon an old man who has spent decades focused on a single wall, driven by a mysterious bet. To everyone’s surprise, hidden in a secret alcove, he discovers silvery snakes and brings them back to town. Simultaneously, two outlaw sisters puzzle over a treasure riddle left by their father, leading them to the very same mine. After a visit to the cave and a detailed description of the thief, they make their way to the town. A deadly gunfight claims the life of the sheriff, and the sisters unite with the son and their newfound silvery snakes, forging a formidable team.

How it works: The show thrives on a single title and western tropes as audience suggestions, with three improvisers seamlessly switching between characters and showcasing their accent work. The grand finale culminates in a deleted scenes extravaganza, adding an extra layer of humor and intrigue.

Rating: 5/5 - Supercut delivers an exhilarating ride through the Wild West with its lightning-fast storytelling and the impeccable ability of the players to weave a tale without ever forgetting a single detail. The story is a whirlwind of wit, clear characters, and humorous moments that cleverly subvert standard western tropes. The fast-paced narrative keeps you engaged from start to finish, and the improvisers’ commitment to their characters and the story is truly commendable. This show is a standout in its genre and a must-see for anyone who appreciates quick-witted storytelling and inventive humor.

Project 2

What it was about Step into a mesmerizing sci-fi world where artificial intelligence is just acted out by humans. ChatGPT thats just a poor dude. In this thought-provoking spectacle, we explore the newfound bonds between humans and their “AI” companions. Tina, an asteroid terraforming specialist, unexpectedly falls head over heels in love with her AI counterpart. Meanwhile, a gas surver, on his yearlong gas year through the boundless cosmos, finds himself only and praised only by his AI companion. But everything takes a cosmic twist when the individual voicing Tina’s AI inadvertently transforms himself into a planet in an attempt to heal a burned tongue with nanobots. The political reaction to this planetary mishap? “Boobing” (destroying) entire sectors, resulting in the death of billions of Ex-Earthlings. But is this a line even the general, ready to annihilate his own sun, won’t cross?

Directed and Played by Project 2.

How it works: This two-player show seamlessly shifts between solo narrated scenes of AI and character interactions and intricate multi-person scenes, creating a dynamic narrative.

Rating: 4.5/5 - This was a immensely enjoyable and thought-provoking show. It masterfully balanced entertainment with profound themes. The setting, music, and characters were nothing short of phenomenal, and the storyline was as clear as the cosmos itself. It was a delightful journey through a sci-fi wonderland, leaving me with much to ponder about the nature of identity and the limits of human-AI relationships. Overall it was a captivating blend of fun and philosophy transporting me to the far reaches of the galaxy and back.


What it was about: Senses informing scenes abot overwhelming romantic Gestures, playing with fire, and fire going out of control, an artpiece pondering wether spectators get it and a concerned mom beginning to suspect a monstrous secret lurking within her daughter’s future spouse.

Directed/Played by Katy and Laura

How it works: On stage, two mysterious bags hold objects designed to tantalize the senses of the two players. These items are described in the most poetic and mesmerizing detail, whisking you away on a imaginary sensory journey. Then, scenes unfold, inspired by the sensations of Feeling, Smell, Taste, Hearing, and Seeing, creating an otherworldly experience.

Rating: 3.5/5 - This avant-garde spectacle truly tantalized the senses with its enchanting descriptions and artistic flair. I reveled in the enigmatic nature of the objects and their unexpected influence on the scenes. The entire show exuded a captivating theatrical vibe that added depth to the narrative. However, there were moments when the pace slowed down a bit too much for my liking, leaving me yearning for more rapid-fire excitement.


What it was about: Jumproping with a d*ck, motorbike chases, a heartwarming tale of a mother and son navigating the trials of growing up, and the riveting saga of changing a lamp like I have never seen before. Add to the mix the resurrection of Jesus, as he returns to his rightful spot—yes, firmly affixed to the cross—by the devout and faithful.

Directed and Played by The lonely bench from Bulgaria and France

How it works: One gestures from the audience is everything needed to get this show started. There are no words, only a symphony of sounds and the art of pantomime, weaving intricate characters and stories into existence before your very eyes. Each movement is a brushstroke on the canvas of this wordless world.

Rating: 5/5 - My mind was blown by this insane, high-energy spectacle that seamlessly melded one movement into another, birthing something entirely new and exhilarating. The absence of words never once detracts from the deep connection forged between the performers and the audience. With their creative, clown-like outbursts and emotional depth, The Lonely Bench has crafted a truly unique experience that left me utterly captivated. It’s a whirlwind of laughter and tears, a rollercoaster of emotions that still lingers in my memory.

The Dark Age of Love

What it was about: In the tumultuous society of the 2050s, where rising sea levels and violence have become the new normal, chaos reigns supreme. Order is but a distant memory, and the survivors band together in small, trust-based groups to eke out an existence. Stranded on a solitary island, they cling to hope while searching for a mysterious hut with a radio. Little do they know that one among them will betray their fragile trust.

Directed by Billy Kissa

How it works: The show kicks off with a narrated montage, setting the stage. It then transitions into short, intimate scenes between subgroups, guided by the introductory music.

Rating 1.5/5 Regrettably, this show left me feeling utterly underwhelmed, ranking as my least favorite of the lot. My expectations were high for drama, betrayal, and a gripping tale of survival, but what I got were characters devoid of distinct characteristics, making them hard to connect with or even like. The ominous looks and absence of genuine human connection left me yearning for more depth. The entire performance felt like a prolonged exposition, never delving into the characters’ motivations or inner conflicts. Furthermore, the lack of substantial female characters was disheartening, a glaring omission that would have failed even the Bechdel Test. Perhaps it was the collective fatigue of the audience, or maybe just me, but I left the theater neither entertained nor emotionally moved. It’s a shame that the show missed the opportunity to live up to its potential.


What it was about: In a world plunged into dystopian darkness, the human spirit is put to the ultimate test. As survivors band together in search of safety, they must remain in the light to avoid contact with an enigmatic force known as “THEM.” Fear, protection, newfound love, and sudden death become the defining elements of their harrowing journey. Is the darkness a result of extraterrestrial beings, or is it a reflection of our own humanity?

Directed by Manuel Speck

How it works: This show unfolds in a fully blacked-out theater, where two groups of improvisers, the main survivors, and the side cast, along with a narrator, take the stage. The performance begins with the main group introducing themselves before embarking on a journey defined by the revelation of ten truths in this new world, concluding with the simultaneous declaration, “We are still alive.” After each episode, new truths are added, but two are removed as characters meet their untimely demise. Interactions between the side and main cast provide depth to the narrative, ultimately leaving us with a single survivor, who faces her fate in total darkness.

Rating: 4/5 - This gripping show masterfully captures the raw emotions, gravitas, and survival instincts that define our humanity. The show delves deep into the human psyche, revealing the best and worst of us in the face of unexpected circumstances. It’s a poignant exploration of what it means to be human, how far we’re willing to go, and the incredible strength that can emerge in the most dire of circumstances. The performance artfully portrays the essence of survival, leaving the audience with much to contemplate.

Just Play

What it was about: The stage comes alive with stories of parents taking their first flight, superheroes who possess the power to change people’s morality with a simple touch, chairs that defy expectations, and the quest to create the perfect lovers who can turn back time.

Performed by Anananas & Pampamplemousse from France

How it works: “Just Play” is a freeform improv experience where objects from the audience, music, sounds and pantomime blend seamlessly into an unending stream of improvisational consciousness. There are no constraints, no holding back, just pure, spontaneous creativity unfolding before your eyes.

Rating: 4/5 - This show offered an enchanting display of the free-flowing magic of improvisation. The way one small element influences the next scene is truly satisfying to witness. However, while the show provided plenty of fun and giggles, there was room for deeper storytelling and character development, particularly in the first half. Balancing the lightheartedness with more profound moments could have enhanced the overall experience. Nonetheless, it’s a whimsical journey that showcases the creative potential of improvisation and leaves audiences entertained and intrigued.

Hotel Superior

What it was about: Welcome to the world of Hotel Superior, where perfection is not just a goal, but an absolute necessity. Every guest’s unspoken wishes must be fulfilled to the highest standard. However, behind the scenes, the staff grapples with bankruptcy, anxiety, VIPs, alcoholism, stalking, escaped lions, sexual special services, and budding relationships. It’s no wonder that things often take unexpected and amusing turns. When a guest meets an untimely demise, and the blame game begins, we are treated to a wondrous introspective journey into the lives of those who call this high-class hotel their workplace and hotel dormicile.

Directed by Andrew Hefler

How it works: As you step into the theatre, the hotel manager welcomes you and invites you to choose one cast member to meet their end during the show. Some lucky guests, who have randomly booked the Luxury Package, are pampered with snacks and a special experience. The stage is divided into two areas: a hotel room and the main bar area. Players, excluding the hotel manager, take on dual roles, portraying both guests and hotel staff. The show unfolds between regular staff meetings, where essential tasks and responsibilities are discussed.

Rating: 5/5 - is a comedic masterpiece, with a cast of incredibly well-developed and interesting characters. The witty and humorous decisions, coupled with the cleverly crafted problems they face, keep the audience entertained and engaged. The cast’s ability to navigate constant character and costume changes is nothing short of remarkable, creating a chaotic yet highly entertaining atmosphere. The interplay and communication between cast members during mass scenes are exceptional and make for unforgettable moments. The audience’s participation, especially with the pampering of Luxury Guests, adds a delightful layer of immersion to the experience. This show was a must-see, offering laughter and entertainment at every turn.

Brothers Lionheart

What it is about: Inspired by the poignant book of the same name, “Brother Lionheart” is a heart-wrenching story of sibling love and loss. It begins with the heartbreaking scene of a young, terminally ill child being cared for by their family, accompanied by a somber musical backdrop. The elder brother gently shares the reality of his sibling’s impending passing, promising that death is not the end but the beginning of a fantastical journey into the Afterhelm.

In this world between life and death, the Afterhelm reveals itself as a place of wonder. Here, sweet rivers hold the power to heal, flying squirrels and colossal trees abound, and bushes bear cakes. Collecting tears from creatures reveals the true nature of those around them. We meet the two brothers again — one already departed and the other teetering on the edge of death. In this seemingly perfect world, an unsettling change occurs as the Salt Queen and her walking fishes threaten to transform paradise. Cotton candy clouds dissipate, and sweet rivers turn salty. When the elder brother is captured, who will emerge to save this fragile world?

image of the set

How it works: The show unfolds with the ill sibling in bed, supported by family, and underscored by a melancholic guitar soundtrack. The elder brother delivers the fantastical tale of the Afterhelm with the help of his younger brother and a supporting cast of two, who take on various roles. Different colored cloths symbolize characters and locations, while the bed serves as a versatile prop. After a heroic journey around the younger brother through the Afterhelm, the narrative returns to the mortal world, revealing the poignant morning of a child’s passing.

Rating: 5/5 - “Brother Lionheart” is a breathtaking journey that transcends the boundaries of life and death. The show’s masterful portrayal of emotion, somberness, and the enduring bond between siblings is nothing short of perfection. The stark contrast between the mortal world and the Afterhelm adds depth to the narrative, making it easy to forget the underlying theme of a child’s passing for moments. The final scenes are especially moving, with the elder brother bidding his farewell and the heartbreaking mourning sequence. It’s a profoundly touching, achingly real, and deeply sad performance that leaves both the audience and me in tears. A true masterpiece that reminds us of the power of love and the beauty of storytelling.

Broken Bicycle Bell

What it was about: This was a whirlwind journey through a bustling Sparkasse bank (sponsored by the festival, of course). In this zany exploration, we encountered perfect money counters, elderly customers grappling with the mysteries of online banking, cutthroat job promotions, the watering of plastic plants, juicy customer service gossip, illicit money laundering, and a mad dash for a last-minute holiday escape.

Performed by Killed by Tygers.

How it works: The show kicks off with two audience suggestions: a location with multiple rooms and a small problem that someone in the audience has recently faced. Armed with these prompts, the performers immerse themselves in scenes set in various rooms, some with recurring characters and some entirely new.

Rating: 2/5 - A chaotic caper with missed opportunities. The show offered moments of laughter but ultimately left much to be desired. One of the key shortcomings was the lack of clear definition for most of the rooms, which resulted in a disconnect between scenes. The performers appeared less eager to fully explore the spaces provided, leaving some scenes feeling disjointed. The suggested problem failed to play a significant role throughout the performance, serving as more of an afterthought in the final scenes. The show may have struggled to captivate the audience maybe due to creative exhaustion from preceding performances, the difficulty of relating to the characters, the unrelatable problems discussed, or the absence of a relatable, grounded narrative. While it had its moments, it couldn’t quite find its footing in the midst of the chaos.


What it was about: The improvisers explored various scenes encompassing social anxiety, murder, vampires, talking lamps, Manchego cheese, love, toy-story-esque playing figures, and even an HR discussion involving fantasy characters.

Directed by Gael Doorneweerd-Perry

How it works: The show is characterized by a unique format where each scene begins with the improvisers striking distinct physical poses unrelated to the previous scene, and then the scene unfolds before transitioning back to the initial position. These changeovers are synchronized with music, adding an extra layer of thematic cohesion. Ultimately, the performance concludes with a montage of all the physical starting positions, presented in chronological order.

Rating: 3/5 - It was undoubtedly a fun experience, but it seemed to get a bit lost in the sea of performances at the festival. One thing I noticed is that many of the non-longform shows in the festival tend to follow a similar pattern, and Patchwork was no exception. However, where it left me somewhat wanting was in its character choices and storytelling. The characters and storylines leaned heavily toward the fantastical, which, while imaginative, felt a bit disconnected from reality. While I appreciate the creativity, I couldn’t help but feel that a stronger connection to relatable themes or characters might have made the show more engaging. In summary, it was a fun and visually dynamic show with a unique format that sets it apart. But, within the context of the festival, it might benefit from a more balanced blend of fantastical and realistic elements to truly stand out.

Conclusio: Curtain Call - Festival Highlights and Cheers

Having experienced 15 shows over the course of this festival, I’ve been treated to a diverse range of inspirations and performances. Upon reflection, I found that my personal preferences gravitated towards narrative-driven shows with grounded stories and rich emotional depth. I tend to appreciate performances where the craft of improvisation is seamlessly integrated (and not shown), where decisions are clear and purposeful and improvisers are seen as human beings.

I have two observations that struck me during these shows. First is the commonality of certain improv formats. I seem to recognize a pattern, where scenes beginning with extended exposition, whether through sound, object work, or meaningful gazes, as a means to establish context, but not driving the narrative or the character.

One potential explanation for this dearth of strong female characters in improv performances could be the broader context of the field itself. It’s a well-known fact that improvisational theater, much like many other creative domains, has traditionally been male-dominated. The imbalance in representation might stem from historical factors and the challenges women have faced in gaining equal footing in the improv community. Another aspect to consider is the persistence of stereotypes in our storytelling. Despite efforts to challenge and subvert them, stereotypes can still permeate our narratives and influence the portrayal of characters. These stereotypes may inadvertently hinder the development of strong, well-rounded female characters, relegating them to certain roles or archetypes. Furthermore, the selection of formats for the festival could also be a contributing factor. If the chosen formats tend to favor particular character dynamics or narratives, it might inadvertently limit opportunities for the portrayal of strong female characters.

Ending on a high note, let’s celebrate the remarkable standout shows that graced this festival with their presence. The guest performances, notably “Momentum” by The Lonely Bench and “The Western Show” by Supercut, etched themselves into the collective memory of the audience, leaving us with hearts full of admiration.

These two shows, although hailing from different galaxies of performance styles, each shone brilliantly in their own constellation. Supercut astounded us with their technical wizardry, executing every aspect of the story with surgical precision. They navigated the narrative landscape flawlessly, avoiding the treacherous pitfalls of mistakes, and hitting every narrative beat with the grace of a seasoned tightrope walker.

On the other side of the whimsical spectrum, “The Lonely Bench” offered a delightful twist. This physically driven, wordless performance connected with our emotions on a profound level. It was like watching a silent, soul-stirring movie, featuring characters so endearing that we couldn’t help but care about their fate.

In addition to the captivating performances, let’s tip our imaginary hats to the festival organizers, the enchanting setting of the Marotte Theater, and the marvelous array of guest performers. The entire experience was nothing short of delightful, making it an absolute pleasure to witness the resounding success of this festival. The international guests added a touch of global charm, creating a harmonious symphony of creativity and camaraderie. Here’s to the magic of improv and the wondrous world it conjures!