University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Cam Lates kicks off with Extreme Improv at the Polar Museum

Cam Lates, the University of Cambridge Museums new series of after-hours events for adults, kicked off at the end of September. With an evening of improv comedy inspired by the history of exploration in the Polar regions.

Cam Lates aim is to attract new audiences aged 25-40 to the Museums and Garden, and encourage them to engage with the venues and collections in new ways.

Experts and Improv

The first event sold out to 80 visitors who came to the Polar Museum to hear two short expert talks from Shackleton Project Education and Outreach Officer, Corinne Galloway and Antarctic Project Officer, Greta Bertram.

Each talk was followed by improv comedy skits from Do Not Adjust Your Stage. A band of comedians who have a residency at the Natural History Museum in London’s after-hours programme, creating improvised sketches in response to short academic talks.

As is the nature of improv (comedy created on the spot moments after the talks have finished) some of the skits were more on topic than others. The objects featured in the expert talks – cans of pemmican and the Intergrating Motor Pnuemotachograph (that’s a scientific instrument developed in the 1950’s to determine human energy expenditure) did come up in the skits. As did the difficulties of sharing a tent on an Antarctic expedition and the drama of a penguin love triangle.

What does the Polar Museum have to say about being the first Museum to be part of the Cam Lates programme?

‘Visitors went away happy and with a positive feeling about the museum and its collection. That is important, of course. But I thought that the strength of this event was to make all of the audience, including the museum’s staff, think afresh about objects that we hold. The objects represented effort, enquiry, patience, hardship, elation and disappointment. We chose them because they had great, human stories behind them. And we thought they could be sparks for imaginative theatre. We didn’t know what direction the improv comedy might go.

Do Not Adjust your Stage’s previous experience in museum settings was important to allay our fears that the comedy might demean the museum, its collection or its work. It did not. Instead it created a refreshing and memorable interaction with two rarely considered items.

People travel a long way to visit the Polar Museum, sometimes half way round the world. But to get a local young-adult audience in has been one of our challenges. So when Jen pitched improv comedy and the Lates programme our interest was easily piqued and when she offered to cover the initial cost, one of the risks was taken out. The Cam Lates marketing strategy clearly worked as we sold out in days to a largely young-adult audience with a high proportion of first time visitors’
Alex Hetherington, The Polar Museum

Thanks also to Simon Talbot and the Cambridge Junction for providing the polar inspired blue lighting for the evening.

The next Cam Late is at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology exploring how other cultures have dealt with death over the centuries: ‘Dias de los Muertos

The University of Cambridge Museums team are currently programming future Lates in 2017.

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