“We’ve developed almost a strange sense of telepathy on stage,” Ritchie says. “Steen can be doing something behind me and I’ll have an instinct for what he is doing. It’s a bizarre thing, a simpatico.”
Each show’s story is inspired by audience suggestions and, accompanied by Ange Lavoipierre improvising on cello, they may take on between 10-20 characters, from evicted trolls to long-lost brothers reuniting at a 1980s roller derby.
“Sometimes we’ll get so deep into the show we’ll come off at the end and have no idea what happened,” Ritchie says. “You get totally consumed by it.”
For the upcoming shows, their last at Giant Dwarf, the pair are donating funds to bushfire relief charities. The final show is dedicated to the memory of their friend Elliot Miller with all proceeds going to charity.
The duo met at university more than a decade ago when Raskopoulos was Ritchie’s improv coach. In 2009 they performed together for the first time at Full Body Contact No Love Tennis, an improv night at the old Roxbury Hotel in Glebe, before branching out together and calling themselves The Bear Pack.
“At uni Carlo used to call me Big Bear and I used to call him Little Bear and that’s how our name came about,” Raskopoulos says. “Our relationship had a totally organic beginning. Nothing was forced. It was just, ‘Oh man, you just understand me completely on stage’, and vice versa. I’m very lucky to have him in my life.”
The pair’s geographical distance allows creative endeavours alongside their collaboration. Raskopoulos has forged a solo comedy career, with nominations for prestigious comedy awards in Melbourne and Edinburgh and roles in BBC and ABC TV shows. Ritchie is also artistic director of Improv Theatre Sydney, which he and Raskopoulos co-founded in 2014, beginning with 30 students. The school now teaches 180 students per term at permanent headquarters in Alexandria.
“The biggest thing with teaching improv is getting people out of their heads and listening,” Ritchie says. “We’re not teaching people to be funny. The realer things seem, the funnier they tend to become. Sometimes things get so real in shows people in the audience cry. We end up getting pretty emotional too.”
The Bear Pack is at Giant Dwarf on January 30 and 31, and February 1, 6, 7 and 8.