Jim Fishwick chats about THE SABOTEUR!

Part improv comedy show, part Whodunnit, part reality tv show and part social strategy game, The Saboteur features a small cast of improvisers who are given a series of improv games and scenes to play. However, one of the players is secretly designated as the Saboteur before the show starts. It is the job of the Saboteur to try and ruin the show by improvising badly – without getting caught!

Nobody else on stage, or in the audience, knows who the Saboteur is. As the scenes progress, the audience and players are surveyed about who they think is the Saboteur through a website. Players are eliminated from the show one by one, based on their ability to correctly identify the Saboteur and their actions. 

Produced by critically acclaimed theatre company Jetpack Theatre Collective (Pea Green Boat, Art Heist) The Saboteur slinks into The Butterfly Club from March 20th to 25th, hosted and directed by the auspicious and audacious Jim Fishwick.

Jim Fishwick | Photo by Kirsty McGuire

Jim is the general manager of Jetpack Theatre, a collective who have created experiential, interactive and immersive theatre since 2015. Jim directed their flagship show Art Heist, a critically acclaimed theatrical escape room that sold out its four-month run. An award-winning director, teacher, actor and writer, and former Australian national champion improvisor, Jim has been in demand as a theatremaker and consultant around Australasia for over a decade. In their spare time, Jim hosts the podcasts Escape Hamilton and I Get That A Lot, writes for the BBC2 quiz show Only Connect, plays the ukulele and enjoys cryptic crosswords.

How did you come to the idea for The Saboteur?

Jim: Growing up I was a big fan of shows like The Mole or Survivor, and for a while I’ve been thinking about how we could try and bring some of that energy, themes, and tropes to the world of improv comedy. The idea also came out of trying to think about how to bring the true crime genre to improvisation. One of the things that’s intriguing about true crime is there are lots of details that weave together to make a story people are trying to solve. I was trying to think, “what’s a crime that you could do on stage to make it true crime, rather than something that just sort of has the trappings of true crime?” And what greater crime is there than bad improv? [laughs] So these two ideas sort of came together a few years ago, and The Saboteur came together.

Can you tell me a bit about the show itself?

Jim: It is an improv show. It’s good and funny, but on top of that there is a layer of mischief and play between the improvisers, so it’s a bit of a structured improv. You’ve got parameters around everything. So I as the host am giving the players a scene, particular games to play. But along the way, they are also talking amongst themselves about who they think could be the saboteur. And that involves a little bit of chatting about what improv is, and what makes good improv. So you might see someone saying “I think you were trying to ruin that scene because you weren’t committing to your character.” And they’ll say, “Well, yes, that’s because I was following the game of the scene. I think you were the saboteur, in fact, because you weren’t building on the premise of the thing.”

Since The Saboteur is improvised, what is the rehearsal process like?

Jim: Part of it, for me, is making sure that the cast all feel very safe together, that they they can trust each other. That even when we’re accusing each other of being a saboteur, it’s not a personal thing. No one’s saying you’re a bad person because you improvise badly, things like that. Part of it is picking the right people and making sure that we’re all on the same page about what the tone and the point of the show is. There’s also a little bit of work in practicing. What does sabotage in an improv context look like? When is it too obvious? When is it too subtle? What are the different strategies that we have at our disposal? What are the “rules” of improv that we can break, or that we can play with to try and create sabotage? How can you hide behind someone else? And also pointing out that we’re being saboteurs to do bad improv, not to be bad people.

Dave Harmon, Bridie Connell and Maddie Parker in The Saboteur | Photo by Kirsty McGuire

What is the biggest misconception when it comes to improvisation?

Jim: That it’s all funny, and it’s not funny then it’s not worthwhile. I think that’s sort of limiting because improv can be so many different things. It can be funny, but it can also be moving, or it can be powerful, or it can be story driven, or character driven. It’s all about the pursuit of the tender feeling of the moment that exists between the two performers and the audience, and that we’re creating something that wouldn’t exist without this precise combination of circumstances. We’re trying to be there in the moment, and sometimes that’s silly. Sometimes it’s like raucous, sometimes it’s tender, sometimes it’s tragic. But, to me, comedy and drama aren’t opposites of each other.

What can audiences expect from the show?

Jim: Every night’s different. I’m constantly coming up with different combinations of games and suggestions because I want to keep them on their toes. We’ve had people come back to multiple nights of The Saboteur because there’s a different cast and a different saboteur each night. I keep doing this show because I’m endlessly fascinated by the different social interactions and the dynamics of trust and betrayal – improvisation is an inherently collaborative art form, but this sort of is a show invites the performers to question that fundamental premise.

Describe The Saboteur in 3 words!

Jim: Okay. I would say… suspense, treachery, and silliness. It’s those three things [laughs].

The Saboteur plays at The Butterfly Club, Melbourne from March 20th to 25th.

For tickets and more information, visit The Butterfly Club website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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