Friday, 30 December 2011

What makes you a fun person to improvise with?

At the start of the last Thursday workshop before Christmas I asked the actors a really simple question:

"The people you enjoy performing with on stage - what is it that they do that makes you enjoy improvising with them?"

I thought there would be hesitation in answering this, but actually the class had some immediate responses to this. Some of the class were relatively new to impro, some had been doing it about a year, and some were experienced performers.

I was tempted to discuss these responses, but actually it's more interesting just to see them in their raw version. So here's what the class said, in order of what they said, unedited:

They are happy to be there, I love the way Conor always so happy about being on stage with me.

They want to be there.

High Energy.

I like people that make me do stuff I wouldn't usually do.

They make offers about me.

They draw me into their plot.

Shared experience.

They hurl themselves into ideas that aren't their own.

They involve others in their story.

I like it when people make great offers when I'm stuck.

They involve everyone in their scenes, sharing.

When I'm acting with them it feels like the story is telling itself.

Listening, incorporating, adding.

They listen to the audience, and give them more of what they enjoy.

Speaking clearly.

They have a natural ability to come up with ideas and don't stop themselves.

Coming on with strong ideas and not having a second thought.

They're having lots of fun.

Sometimes they are enjoying themselves so much that they are constantly holding back a laugh.

Acting with them feels like a game of volleyball, with the ball constantly passed from person to person.

The Negative Version

I then asked the opposite question:

"People that you don't enjoy improvising with - what is it that puts you off?"

At first there was hesitation in answering this, until I point out that if we just did the opposite of the following statements we'd have some really positive things to act on.

So they next answered the negative version, and here's what they came up with pretty much instantly:

They talk in a muffled voice that I can't hear.

They aren't really listening to me.

I find it hard to hear what they are saying.

They gag from the start and destroy the most obvious platform.

They don't do the obvious thing. They don't do 'the thing' that obviously should be happening.

They aren't physically free, the don't respond to light touches and won't move with the other actors.

They do little one liners at the expense of the scene.

They are always playing the same actor/character.

They show disappointment in being selected to go up with the other actor.

Not listening.

Forcing out their own ideas at all costs.

People taking it (impro) way to seriously.

Steamrolling - just being loud without letting other people's ideas come in.

Hitting, in or out of character it's not acceptable.

Being leechy/creepy with the other actors.

Giving up too easily.

I can't understand what they are saying or doing.

Negatively criticising the other actors.

Suggesting alternative content for scenes after they're done.

Trying to be funny by being overly layered.

Turning the Negatives into Positives

We then wrote down the opposite of the above statements, and they formed another batch of great positive aims for improvising. Here they are in order, the positive opposites of the negative statements:

Talk clearly and loud enough and slow enough for the actors and audience to hear.

Listen to the other actors.

Talk clearly and loud enough and slow enough for the actors and audience to hear.

Be obvious, start seriously at the start and build a believable realistic platform.

Be obvious. If something is obviously going to happen in a scene, do it. Do 'the thing'.

Be physically free. Allow yourself to move with the other actors. Everything on stage should be a light touch. Allow a light touch to move you far across stage.

Don't break the reality of the scene.

Play different characters.

Be thrilled, happy and excited to be with your fellow actors.


Share. Put in your ideas, but also adapt and build on other people's ideas.

Don't take impro seriously. You can play a serious character and a serious scene, but in your heart be playful.

Share. Let other people alter you and build on their ideas. Leave gaps for other people.

Take physical care and have respect for the other actors at all times.

Be respectful of the other actors at all times.

Just keep playing and be determined, it's not that important anyway.

Be clear and obvious in your speech and movement.

Don't critisice the other actors, leave that to the director.

Don't discuss alternate content of scenes, only discuss technique and even then see above.

Be obvious.

We then improvised lots of scenes, with people picking one of the positive list things to play and me directing them so that they achieved the positive aims. The result was lots of fun scenes.

I love the way that the statements reflect underlying things that are in loads of impro theory, but use different language that is actually more common sense. It suggests most people already know what makes good improvisers, even if they haven't thought to put it into words yet. I also love that the priorities are a different order to most impro books, for instance 'being heard' and 'being happy to be there' were really high up and incredibly important to the whole cast.

I was really tempted to now categorise the responses and spot patterns, but that would probably make it way too serious and remove from the beauty of the exercise. I do think it's altered my Hoopla workshop aims/topics for next year though, I'm going to be carrying it around with me everywhere I go.

Hope you have a great New Year everyone!

Lots of love,

Classes and Shows for 2012 are now up to date and live on website. Workshops start up again next Thursday.

ADDITIONAL - Added after asking the same question to a bunch of improvisers at a Saturday workshop soon after the above

The improvisers including more people from an acting rather comedy background, which generated some interesting other responses. Some of them are contradictions of each other, but that's impro for you. Here are they are, written as they were said:

Don't Block.


Gift Giving

Stuff they give you



Not outdoing each other

Not competition


One turn at a time

Picking up the smallest of offers

Listen - whether you're in it or not

Not worrying what you are going to say

Quirky strange people / new choice

Unexpected things

Played very naturally

Don't be afraid of silence.

Don't expect, but accept everything. 

Not rushing, slower pace. 

Stuff inbetween the lines is important. 

Moving in silence. 

Setting up something in silence. 

Improvise in different styles. 




Imaginary objects. 

Strange things. 

Physical interaction. 

ADDITIONAL - From asking the same question to the cast of Imagine If You Will at the start of rehearsals

Again, there are contradictions, but that's impro whoop yeah!

You look, you feel, you are

High level of commitment

Commitment towards story and character

Commited to action

Obviousness of labelling characters and things

Sense of fun

Absurdity curve

Make em laugh and cry

Guy looks me direct in the eyes and makes a genuine emotional connection and physical connection, he's being a real person

Bounce of emotion between us

Focussing on each other

Eye contact - looking at other person

Trust each other

Get each other's back

Filling an empty stage

Commitment to each other

Fall in love with each other and mean it

Dead pan and committed to stillness

Long rants

Grumpy old men, two terrible old villains

Fun and incompetent partnership

Like it when people want to have fun

Eye contact

Impro as if high drama

Trust them and they trust you

Intuitively painting a scene

This scene is really important and matters

People that make things significant

People pick up on small offers, make it bigger

Reflect stuff back at me

Referencing characters back

They give you character

Open and honest in a scene

Dave keeps the game going without loosing the point of the scene

Casie enthusiastic and playful

Duncan gives emotional endowments - "why PC Bloggs you seem very happy today"

Make it about you

Engages with the same objects

Respect scene

Share space together

Commitment to object



Having fun on stage

Playing with it

Not being frightened

Like being used as an object, if I'm playing a table it's nice if someone puts something on top of me

Friendliness, happy, easy going

Relaxed and secure

Staging, clear


Listening, everything is full of 800 ideas

Focus on things

Involve and build and care

You must listen even if your character isn't 

Physical safety

Offer at a time

Accept, build up, explore

Turn up

Support reality of scene

Be obvious at start from suggestion

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Hoopla Everyone! Impro highlights of the year.

Merry Christmas everyone!

I've started compiling my impro highlights of the year. I've probably missed loads so feel free to add to them if you can, I'm just adding them in no particular order as they come to my head:

  • Edgar teaching 'be obvious' in workshops, always bringing me back to the right point. "NO, be obvious. If the suggestion is an operating theatre, what do I want to see? People operating and shit."
  • On the point of exhaustion after The Music Box Cabaret in Edinburgh, Ben Hamblin handing me two cans of Red Stripe and a Twix, a reincorporation from over a month.
  • Singing on the roof of C Venues with the cast of Do Not Adjust Your Stage.
  • Wally showing his pants.
  • A tent pole falling on George at The Wilheart Festival, but her doing the show anyway after the audience sang her Happy Birthday.
  • Performing in an Aquarium with Music Box and Shotgun.
  • Countless favourite Music Box shows like 'Escape from a penguin sanctuary', 'Giant Toy Shop', 'Casino' and 'Orient Express'.
  • Walking around with sandwich board on for the whole of Edinburgh.
  • Hysterical laughter with Jules Munns as torrential rain poured down our faces while putting up posters.
  • Meeting Mike Hutcherson and finding we had the same taste in impro and films, and the ability to make both of them. Ending the year filming Zorbo Ironheart, which was awesome.
  • Lots of shows that did a preview at The Miller going on to have major success in Edinburgh.
  • Working with The Miller, still love those guys, many thanks.
  • Random chats with Silus at The Rag Factory, a man of knowledge.
  • The Human Loire.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Stage rocking the Music Box cabaret. They were asked to do 15 minutes, but did their full show. Nobody cared 'cos it was good.
  • Rehearsal for new shows I'm starting next year. First rehearsal for the re-invention of short-form went so well I'm really excited about it.
  • Making more connections with Brighton, including The Maydays, Upstairs at Three and Ten, Nicola Tann and Chris Emmerson.
  • The RH Experience, in general just knowing these guys always picks me and Edgar up. They're always trying new things and pushing things in new directions.
  • Impro networking event - a hive of activity.
  • Friday night party - so much fun having 8 people doing their first ever show alongside some who have been doing it for years.
  • Theatre sports - loved performing with James, Maria and George in this.
  • Phil Lunn only just making it to the keyboard during a Music Box show just as I'd finished getting the suggestions and we starting the opening number.
  • The last aquarium show - nuts.
  • Meeting and working with a bunch of clowns in Exeter.
  • Meeting and working with the lovely Zsuzsi in Reading. Just having Hoopla somewhere else makes me immensly proud.
  • Working with Lindsey and her great enthusiasm for impro in Cambridge.
  • Jon Monkhouse for getting London Impro going, being so easy to work and play with, designing flyers for Music Box that actually allowed us to sell the show and make some money, patience, and silliness.
  • Paul and Cariad for one of my favourite shows of the year.
  • Singing with Becca on top of a hill at the start of Edinburgh, with such hits as "Nob balloon" and "they didn’t let us in".
  • Roderick pushing the boundaries of stand-up, and hitting gold with his art critic act.
  • Amazing stuff on Saturday workshops that seem to reivent impro on an almost weekly basis.
  • Seeing so many groups at Edinburgh.
  • Rob and Dave and Ryan from Marbles rapping on the Royal Mile.
  • Thursdays always being a really great fun atmosphere, and us lot swamping people in The Firefly afterwards. Big Christmas love to the Thursday regulars!
  • The start of Monday workshops. From a bunch of quiet people looking awkward at each other (me included) to some of the best stuff I've seen, within a couple of weeks. Watching some of them go from never having done anything, to being in shows for the first time is very rewarding. 

Overall I'm grateful that people like that exist.

Whatever people think/teach/learn/read/talk about impro it really is as simple as a bunch of people working together to make up some stuff that hasn’t been made up before, in order to make another bunch of people laugh. And that’s why it’s beautiful.

Merry Christmas!


Hoopla Impro Workshops and Shows
2012 workshop and show listings now online at

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Objectives Workshop Notes

I've been finding the Hoopla Friday Night show from a couple of weeks ago incredibly influential on the workshops I'm running at the moment, and there's some great stuff coming out of them. I think seeing performance impro in its purest form has made me concentrate on the most important stuff. I've found that just concentrating on whether people are talking loudly enough, not turning their back to the audience, and making sure they are saying yes and dealing with offers, is producing some great workshop content.

I've also found recently that giving a rough structure to scenes in workshops (using The Henry, Scene Whore, or Music Box structure) is also making it more fun and people are really playing with it and going for it.

Also today I did a whole workshop on a new topic for us: Objectives. What an amazing topic! What an effect on the actors! So much so I feel they are the missing thing from impro workshops.

They are also in the category of things I actually do on stage when performing, but forget to pass on in workshops. I think sometimes there is a gap between what people teach and what they actually do on stage, so it felt good getting this stuff out there.

Objectives are common things in scripted acting. When putting together the character the actor will go through finding the following for the character:

Super Objective - What the character wants deepest in their subconcious, perhaps connecting to the collective subconcious wants/needs of humanity, eternal absolute forms and values. Freedom, truth, beauty, justice, love, security, safety, happiness etc.
Life Objective - What the character wants over the course of their life/adult life. Perhaps something about how they were raised as a child affects what they want as an adult. Perhaps one event changes their whole life. For instance someone from a broken home seeks building a new family of their own around love. 
Play/Story Objective - What the character wants over the course of the actual play/story/film/show. The play shows a section of their life. It will probably be served by the life objective. For instance in the above example the play objective could be marrying a certain person.
Scene Objective - What the character wants in each particular scene. For instance getting the other person to go on a date, or getting her Father to say yes to the proposed idea of marriage.
Line Objective - What they want from each line. Sometimes the lines will state it, sometimes there will be a greater subtext beneath them. This can be the difference between wooden acting and performance with real life behind it.
Actions/Dialogue - What the character does to achieve these objectives, or what they have to do.
Behaviour/Activities/Emotion/Mood/Status - How they do them. 

In scripted acting you can attack the creation of characters from different angles. You can start reading the script in rehearsal and come up with a play objective and from that extrapolate a life and super objective. You don't have to even tell the director you are doing this, if it's not in the script, just do it anyway to give your character life. 

Objectives may be revealed to the character as the story continues. The character at the start might not know that what they really seek is safety and security and love, they may find it later at the end of their journey. 

Also the objectives for characters may shift. This happens in real life too, especially after traumatic events, other major life events, or after achieving a previous objective. This creates a momentary sense of loss and confusion in the character, and rather than shying away from this it can be good to actually play.

Another common occurrence is that the character pursues what they want but actually gets what they need. An alternative way of looking at this is that the character pursues a life or play objective, doesn't achieve it, but actually discovers their super objective along the way which is more beautiful and eternal - the greatest prize of all. 

All characters in the story have objectives, not just the protagonist. Some of their objectives serve the protagonist's dream, some clash with it, some prevent it. Even the smallest character has something they want, even if it's something really subtle.

In improvisation the generation of character and objectives is effectively switched into reverse. When we go on stage first we don't know who we are or what we're doing, so we don't know what we want from the scene/play/life etc. 

So in impro we are free to just do anything at the start. This is amazingly liberating. By just doing something, anything, we accidentally trigger other things inside us that gradually generates objectives and discovers deeper layers to our characters. 

In impro we can start with 'how' we do things, before we even know what we're doing. It's like life switched inside out. So come on, have some behaviour, have an emotion, do an action, have an activity, play a status, and discover why later.

Once the improviser senses an objective, even if it comes as a quiet whisper, they can expand it, yes and it, grow it. They can take the stage, face the audience, and actually say their dream out loud. This signals to the audience and the rest of the cast what they are pursuing. It might feel odd performing this, but it's incredibly satisfying to the cast and audience. 

Improvisers can also just pick an objective at random. It's more satisfying if it is grown from the small offers that come out of the scene, but just picking something and committing to it works well too. If you've been on stage for a few scenes already and don't have an objective, just pick one. 

In impro you can also go on stage with objectives from your own life, to help give your character depth right from the start.

It's also great if your objective are connected to wanting the other characters to do things, as this adds depth and game. For instance the difference between playing 'I want to kiss someone' and 'I want that person to kiss me within 5 minutes' is vast, with the latter once generating loads of complicity between characters. 

Sometimes in impro your objectives might have to shift, especially if you haven't named your objective out loud and then someone endows you with something else. This is fine, and with experience you can changing and merging objectives to suit the scene. 

The great thing with playing objectives is that the comedy and narrative takes care of itself. You can be playing with a large group over one long story and objectives give all the direction you need. Keep sticking to your character. 

Suddenly we had characters on stage pursuing goals. 

Excellent stuff workshop team!

London workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday
Shows every Tuesday and Wednesday
Various additional workshops around the UK

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Full Circle

I've gone full circle again. This has happened a few times before. 

I first got into drama/impro/comedy stuff (apart from early school things) doing John Cremer's drop-in nights in Brighton. I loved it and decided to explore all forms of drama, so did a two week course with A.C.T in Brighton to find what area I was most interested in. At the end of that course there was a feedback session and the head of the school said "there's this teacher I know who I think would be just perfect for." I was really excited, who could this apparent match made in heaven be? I opened the piece of paper - it said 'John Cremer'. 

Few years later, I again felt the pull towards serious acting and away from impro. I was actually planning on auditioning for drama school, and signed up for an acting course and audition training with Act Up in London. I learnt serious modern pieces, and a selection of Shakespeare. When delivering the Shakespeare in the end of course mock audition I managed to get a laugh in the way I walked into the room, got addicted to it again, and kept pushing the button to make them laugh. It was more fun. In the end I said I couldn't complete the audition piece because the other actor had walked off stage (it was an imaginary character). They asked if I'd ever heard of improvised comedy, as I was probably better suited to that. I didn't audition for drama school in the end, which I'm actually happy about as I did loads of other stuff instead. So it was back to impro.

This Autumn I was pretty set on committing more to stand up. I even did the Amused Moose course with Logan Murray, which was great. I turned up having done written material in lessons, and it went down alright. I turned up one week having done nothing, and just ranted about carrier bags, and it went down really well. The next week I turned up and deliberately went on stage with no idea, and it went down best of all. Morale of the story - impro is my thing now and I can't avoid it. 

Perform more

I loved the Friday Night Impro Party, thanks for all who came. What was lovely was that for many people there it was there first ever time performing impro. 

It struck me as how important it was to perform impro in order to learn it. You could do loads of courses and workshops with loads of people, but until you're actually performing in front of an audience it doesn't really come to life. Once people are performing the workshops suddenly have meaning. 

I know I've been blogging lots about where to perform impro in London at the moment, but here's some more:

Check out our website,
Check out Crunchy Frog Collective,
Check out Casting Call Pro website, they have loads of jobs, mix of unpaid and paid, popping up
Student Films, I just did one of these and was surprised at how much impro popped up in the physical stuff
Starting your own group
Stand up circuit
You Tube 

Loads more, I just put them on as I think of them. 

I'm also a big fan of using impro in other activities. I just did a scripted student film, but the impro stuff came into play lots and loved it. 

Simplicity of what makes a good performer

I was watching a few impro shows as an audience member recently. What stuck me was from their point of view it was just super simple things that stuck out when watching performers, namely:

1. Can I hear you?
2. Have you got your back to the audience?
3. Are you blocking the other actor?

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Venues to perform improv in and shows that need improvisers in.

Got an impro show? Here's some places to perform it.
Are an improviser? Here's some more groups/nights that might want you to perform with them.
I don't have all contact details but they should pop up on google.
This is an ever changing fluctuating list so please let me know if I've missed any. 

Tuesdays: The Miller, London Bridge. Two different impro groups a night. Programmed by Steve Roe from Hoopla ( in association with Jon Monkhouse ( Next year it will generally be one show that's been directed/produced by Hoopla/Steve combined with one guest group. We're trying to support new shows, with most new shows getting at least one showing at Miller Tuesdays, so there is much variety as possible.

Wednesdays: The Miller, London Bridge. Two different groups a night. Programmed by Jon Monkhouse ( in association with Hoopla.

Thursdays: Grand Theft Impro, The Wheatsheaf, they have guest performers that tend to be from the very experienced section of improvisers.

Sundays: Crack Comedy Improv Sundays with two different groups every single Sunday. Programmed by Luisa Omielan (

Sundays: Wilmington Arms. Every Sunday with experienced Harold Players working together. Might be doing some jams too. Gareth seems to be coordinating this, sorry don't have his full contact details to hand.  

Every other Thursday: Fingers on Buzzards, The Horse. Sometimes has guest performers, Matt Andrews is the chapt.
RH and Friends: The RH Experience Shows, with added different performers each time.

Hoopla Friday Night Impro Party: Open to all improv jam, turn up and perform, first Friday of the month, starting this Friday at The Miller.

The Horse - really good venue, free to hire if you're bringing in an audience, lots of impro groups performing ad hoc or regular shows here now.

The Inflatables - Great short form show that sometimes has guest cast. Andrew Gentilli is your man.

Fat Kitten - don't think they are looking for cast at the moment but it's a crime to talk about impro in London and not mention them. James Ross runs awesome nights with them and other comedy acts including some mega big stuff.

Battle Acts - They do verses shows in Brixton and may be interested in some other teams to play against.

Catch 23 - Cool format directed by Paul Foxcroft that has different teams performing.

The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone Place - cheap to hire, good for ad hoc impro shows but probably won't do more regular shows than GTI.

The Round Table, Leicester Square - really small venue, Hoopla used to perform every Tuesday here, free to hire, right next to Leicester Square Station. Not great for big shows but fun atmospheric place to put on a cheeky test show.

Leicester Square Theatre - massive venue and also smaller cabaret venue. Heard good things about their marketing ability at bringing in their own audience, but heard it can be a bit pricey.

Canal Cafe Theatre, Hen & Chickens, The Pleasance, Camden Etc - haven't really worked with them but they've all had various workshops there.

Crunchy Frog Collective - - best website for staying up to date with impro casting calls etc.

Casting Call Pro - another good casting website. If you're looking to build up acting experience this is a good one.


New exercise on being altered by small offers

Came up with a new exercise at our Monday night class this week. It was part of a 'Listening Workshop'. 

I'd already done lots of listening exercises, similar to those mentioned in a previous blog ( when I got onto the topic of active listening. 

It's not about just being on stage 'listening' and 'seeing' but doing nothing. That can create boring scenes that don't go anywhere, as two actors wait for the other to do something thinking that that's supportive. 

It's true that listening and seeing are the first requirements of improvisation - otherwise how can you know what the other person is doing and improvise with them?

But on top of listening and seeing people must be ALTERED by what the other person does and take ACTION. It's when we are altered, emotionally, intellectually, physically by the other person's offers that we get a connection. 

Everyone can react to big offers. Actually in fact even that's probably not true, we've probably all seen scenes like this:

- You're Brother has been shot on the front line
- I don't have a brother / do you want a cup of tea / good I didn't like him

The second actor is doing anything they can to not be altered by the news. 

Also we've probably all seen scenes where someone was shot but didn't die (booo) etc etc. 

So anyway,  we therefore came up with an exercise where one person makes the SMALLEST possible offers they can, and the other is ALTERED in a big way by everything they do. 

I don't normally name check people in blogs, but I got Nick Oram to do this and he was so awesome at it I just had to mention it. 

So me and Nick were on stage. And I just casually moved my right hand in front of my by about 5 centimeters. He immediately went into panic and jumped away from me and shouted 'no! don't press it'. My little offer of 'moving my hand' had been turned into 'pressing a button to release a nuclear bomb' by his reactions alone.

We carried on with more, and funnily enough even if he tried to be over the top they didn't actually look over the top, as it just made the scene have higher stakes. I felt super supported as I could do even the slightest move and it had a big effect on Nick. We also tried it where he didn't react at all, and this resulted in me waving my arms like mad and being too 'big', and I felt like a bit of a dick. So when the other actor is not being altered, you tend to over do things and feel self-concious, as if you're not affecting the other people on stage how can you affect the audience?

We continued this game with the whole group, where one by one someone had to push an imaginary button very subtly, and then the whole group would react with the same reaction at once. This was crazy fun. I found it important to mention that they should be reacting to the build up to pushing the button, not just the action. 

So you're being altered by the other actor all of the time, not just the big deliberate offers, but the accidental offers, the build up, the casual. Don't wait for an offer, act as if it has already happened. Make something they did important to you. Be altered. 

Workshops in London Monday, Thursday, Saturday
Workshops around the UK starting in 2012

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

How to use improv to write sketch comedy

Yeahhhhh! Finally cracked it. I've run this workshop a few times before but never felt like it reached it's full potential, but this Saturday there were some amazing sketches popping up one after another - blam blam blam! Here's a collection of things that we found helpful:

Explorer, Artist, Judge, Warrior

This is more of a concept than a technique, it comes from Roger von Oech's 'A whack on the side of the head' and is for any creative project. You basically have to take each of those roles as you go through the process. As applied to sketch comedy using improv and other techniques:

Explorer: Goes into the world. Reads about subjects. Absorbs information. Writes lists of things. Doesn't worry about what's funny and what's possible. Explore a subject before you know what's funny about it.

Artist: Plays with the information from the explorer, plays games, mucks around, haves fun, turns things on their head. Takes it to new dimension. Doesn't worry about what's funny and what's possible. Play with a subject before you know what's funny about it.

Judge: Picks out the funny bits, best bits. Decides what is going forward. Decides what could be done with being played with more. Any clown can tell you what's not working, the more experienced people will be able to spot what is working and build that up instead.

Warrior: Making it happen. Driving it through to a finished product. Getting scripts, props, actors, venues, audiences etc.

In reality they actually overlap more than that, but that's the general idea. The process freezes up when people accidentally act in one role too early - as in judging their first thoughts before they've done any exploring, or trying to be funny before they've actually explored a subject to be funny with, or being a warrior with a project that hasn't actually got any content yet.

So explore, play play play, spot what works, build that up, play play play, record, refine, rehearse, produce, perform, re-evaluate.

Writing Techniques

We employed a few different writing techniques throughout the day, even though the workshop was predominantly about the improv and using scripts as the inspiration for performance rather than the be all and end all.

Write a Sketch in 10 Minutes - did this right at the start of the day. No warm up, no guidelines, no help. I think writing is held under some kind of mystical reverence sometimes so I like to get rid of this right at the start and just get people doing it no matter what. Fastest way to learn is to do. Some people were in judge mode, even though it's an impossibly difficult task, and were then surprised that actually really good stuff came out. There's a hidden gem in all writing when you are improvising from it, and actually this technique produced one of the funniest sketches of the day. Do NOT judge or critisize these pieces, that's not the point of the exercise.

Break The Rules
- write down at the top of the page a well known situation, occupation or location. Underneath write down all the rules that make up that thing. Social rules, legal rules, unsaid rules, etiquette, professional rules, whatever the concept means to you. What's the essence of that thing? What is the normality for that thing? Be obvious and write out loads, the more obvious the better. Now take the rules and write down in a line the breaking of each rule one be one. What's the opposite of that thing? How can that truth be reversed? Now go through the broken rules and exagerate and extrapolate, and then write down a sketch based on this.

Who What Where Relationship Attitude Objective Situation
- making sure your sketches and characters have these things

Repeating and Escalating - start with a subtle pattern of behaviour, repeat and escalate

Reversal - what usually happens in this situation? What's the normal process? Reverse this, make a sketch out of it. For instance fireman usually get called out to put out fires with water that comes out of their hoses. Reversing generating a sketch about arsonists that get called out and have fire coming out of hoses.

- ridicule someone famous who deserves it!

Switching - switch a well defined character to a different situation in life but keep the same behaviour from their normal situation. For example two doctors doing the washing up with the same care as an operation "spoon. Spoon. Sponge. Sponge. I need 50mg more fairy washing up liquid." You can also just switch the patterns of behaviour across characters. 

Exaggerating - Exagerate a well known character, situation, relationship etc. 

Role Reversal - take well known groups of characters and switch their normal roles. For instance parents start acting as children. Sitcoms do this all the time.

Improvising from the Scripts

We learnt this from The Penny Dreadfuls when they came to do a workshop. It feels like it shouldn't work but it actually works really well. Once some scripts are written it's tempting to sit down and go through them and re-write, but actually at this stage this is putting you into Judge mode way too early and it's better to just keep playing. The writing techniques are Explorer and a bit of artist, the improviser in charge is full Artist and loads more stuff comes out. Also surely it's best to see the sketch live on stage earlier rather than later? We can then play with real actors and laughter rather than intellectulising it.

So, actors get into pairs. One runs over to the piles of scripts and picks up one sketch that's been writen by someone else. DO NOT pick them or judge them or choose them, just pick one at random otherwise you slip into judge mood.

They then learn the lines without talking, don't even decide who is going to do what part, don't talk about the sketch, just learn the lines.

Then they go on stage and with 100% commitment just launch into the sketch. They probably don't know who will play who, or the lines, but by going for it with commitment the sketch idea jumps to life. Random ad hoc lines happen, characters form and suddenly we have a real thing we can play with! You can then later re-write, add bits, and play with it but the important thing is PLAY PLAY PLAY don't think think think. When you do see it pick up on what's working what is funny and expand that, picking up on what isn't working is easy and meaningless. So pick up on the bits that take off, what's behind those bits, is there a deeper game or concept, expand that stuff.

Game of the Scene

This was by far the most helpful and fun bit. I do whole day workshops on game of the scene but we just gate crashed it into an hour, it produced some awesome stuff.

1. Director gives the actor the situation so they don't have to worry about that. Where they are, who they are, what they're doing, locations, occupations etc.
2. Actors play that as dead obvious and normal as they can, just do the normal situation.
3. Stop after 4 lines or so. It's tempting to do more but with experience the game always presents itself accidentally within about 4 lines or so, and if you go past that in this exercise the actors end up putting little fake games in and it gets mushy.
4. Get the audience to state what already happened in the scene, be obvious. They'll tend to intellectulaise and come up with theories straight away, but really get them to just be obvious and stick to the facts. It's amazing that even with just 4 lines most people won't actually remember what got said.
5. Get them to then express this as a game:
    - What was the first unusual thing that happened?
    - What are the rules of interaction and behaviour that have popped up in this scene?
    - What repeats and escalates?
    - What do they want?
    - How are these games and rules connected?
    - If this person does this, what does the other person do, and vise versa?
6. Get the actors to do the scene playing the defined game hard, and let the game escalate.
7. Ask the audience what was working for them, simplify the game, and do it again.
8. Repeat. Play. Have fun.
9. Record and refine etc.

The ones that worked best were when:

    - The game was interactive and connected between the characters. One effected the other to do something, which made the other do something else. If the game was just in one direction it didn't feel as alive.
    - The game could be summed up and explained in one simple line. Simplifying became an important skill. Too many games and too much explanation and it becomes mushy, one simple line done well and expanded made captivating stuff.

Going to do more of it now, more workshops like it, and also use it in a YouTube sketch project I've got going on.

Workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday in London.
Additional workshops around the UK.
Improv Comedy Club every Tuesday and Wednesday in London.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Reality Workshop Notes

This is one of my new favourite exercises. I seem to always start a blog like that, which I suppose makes sense because if they weren't my current favourites they wouldn't make it onto the blog. 

So last night's Monday workshop was on reality. The idea being that having the mantra "it's real, it's real, it's real" in improvisation and treating everything on stage as if it's real, and believing that it's real, is helpful to improvisers for a few reasons:

1. If you believe it's real, the audience are more likely to believe it. In fact the audience aren't really going to suspend their disbelief unless you do first. 

2. If you are in the real moment you don't have to 'act' or 'perform' as much as you will respond naturally and spontaneously. If you really believe you are in a pub having a quiet drink and a masked gun man walks in and shouts you won't have to act shocked, you just will be. 

3. Believing it's real quite often takes care of the narrative. We found that the natural realistic reaction often provided the next step in the narrative, and really only a couple of narrative beats/tilts from the director were needed each scene.  For instance when someone kicked off in a coffee shop the owner phoned the police, a good narrative move and also very real. 

4. Treating everything like it's real makes the performer pay more attention to the other actors and listen more, as we need to know everything about them.  

5. It stops performers going too weird too soon. If you are creating a reality together it will stop the random self destructive offers or gags that get laughs at the expense of the established reality.

Also treating like it's real doesn't have to mean boring. However boring the audience in the first scene is sometimes a good mantra to have as a performer (Keith Johnstone writes about this). But you don't have to base all scenes in a kitchen to be real, you can still find the reality in the situation of acting two aliens on planet Xarg constructing an inter galactic death ray. As Sanford Meisner said it's about "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances".

I found that starting the workshop with a large amount of trust exercises (the chair game) was really helpful as it made the performers respectful of each others offers. 

Then the major reality exercise:

1. Volunteer performer goes on stage alone. 
2. They explain to the class a place they routinely go to every day/week, showing us where things are on the stage (furniture) and explaining who they other people are in the scene (names, character traits, what they do). 
3. Director asks them further questions and clarifies, and puts out items of furniture on stage. In this first case it was a coffee shop the actor went to most days.
4. Director then casts people from the rest of the group to be in the coffee shop, eg workers, dog in the corner, people sat around on lap tops. 
5. Actor then comes into their real world and we play it straight, real, without adding any story. It's just the normal every day life. 
6. Director corrects if people are taking focus away from the protagonist, or if they are over acting or over storytelling. We're looking for something that wouldn't look out of place in the real world. 
7. Next day in the coffee shop. Director then whispers a 'tilt' to one of the actors. In this case one of the coffee shop workers was going to ask the actor out on a date. This made a lovely scene, where because they were all treating it like it was real it had all the cuteness and awkwardness you'd usually find in this situation. 
8. Repeat for further scenes. 

With everyone believing it was real only a couple of narrative beats/tilts were needed to generate long captivating pieces. 

Well done all. 

Hoopla London workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. 

Additional workshops around the UK.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Solo Improvisation Workshop Notes

Really fun workshop this one, with a healthy mix of improvisers, stand ups and actors. Some really cool stuff came out of it. 

The main tips that arose were when improvising with an audience were:

1. You are never really alone, the audience and room are always providing offers even when they are silent. 
2. Commit. You are either improvising by yourself and the audience or you're not, so you might as well go for it. 
3. Play. Keep playing, all the time, even if you think it's not going well just keep playing. 
4. Have no expectations. Don't expect anything, then you'll be happy for any slight response. 
5. The audience isn't there to cheer you up and give you energy, you are there to cheer them up and give them energy. You are the idiot in the room. 

A big topic that came up from the stand ups and I really enjoyed taking on was how to work with a silent crowd, as they said this was even worse than a booing/heckling crowd. 

We first tried this out playing the game 185 - where the performer has to improvise jokes in the format 185 somethings walk into a bar...punchline. 

After doing it to applause I got some of the performers to do it and then receive enforced silence from the audience. It was AWKWARD!!! So we played with the awkwardness. At first we tried having the performer have an over enthusiastic response to their joke, which was contagious and sort of worked. But some of them pointed out that that would be a bit fake to do all the time. So we went deeper and found that core to that was PLAY. It didn't really matter what response the performer gave to the silence, as long as they were playing with it. Suddenly it was impossible for the audience to keep silent and cold, as the performers stayed cheerful and kept playing. 

It's not pushing, or prodding, or forcing, it's playing. Playing can be physical (someone started doing a backward roll), verbal, intellectual, emotional, anything really. 

Audiences have lots of minor moments of silence but if the performer accidentally treats one of these moments as permanent and stops playing then these moments spread and become and cold. By constant fluctuating play the performer remains alive and eventually so does the crowd. The performer has to be the life force in the room. 

Some useful solo impro games:

185 - Improvise jokes in the format "185 somethings walk into a bar...punchline" Clap or boo them. 

Big Mouth - Run out in front of the audience and talking as quickly as possible compliment as many of them as possible using poetry, metaphor, exageration. 

All Characters - Improvise scenes where you play all characters. It's useful if the characters touch each other, and make eye contact. 

One Character - Improvise scene where you play one character and the other characters are invisible to audience. Helpful if they touch you.

Fact, Fact, It's Like, I Feel, I Want, Do - Good semi-structure for getting content from an audience, even if they are silent and not responding at first. Good if it's down with big mouth like compliments. Name a fact about the person that is undeniably true (don't get trapped into opinion at first, save that for later, it's good to ground in hard fact to draw people in), name the fact again, extrapolate some it's likes/metaphors etc, say how that makes you feel, say what you want to do with that person, do it. 

Example of this that came out of the workshop:

Wow you have really big muscles, you've got really big muscles, it's like you've got the body I've always wanted, I'm really jealous, I want your body, (starts climbing into the audience member's t-shirt) I'm going to get into your body, my hand is your hand etc. 

It was very silly. 

Hoopla workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday in London, with additional workshops around the UK.


Monday, 7 November 2011

List of most comedy fringe festivals ordered by start date

Friend of mine asked for them, I happened to have a list, so thought it might be useful for all.

Exeter Comedy Festival    January
Leicester Comedy Festival    February
Sheffield Student Comedy Festival    February
Adelaide Fringe    February
Laughter Lines Comedy Festival, Leeds    March
Udderbelly Festival    April
Liverpool Festival    April
Bath Comedy Festival    April
Chicago Improv Festival    April
Bury Fringe    May
Brighton Fringe    May
Brighton Festival    May
Salisubury Arts Festival    May
Norwich Fringe Festival    May
Norfolk and Norwich Festival    May
Freerange Comedy Festival, Cumbria    May
Bath Fringe    May
Stratford upon Avon Fringe    May
St. Alban's Festival    June
National Student Drama Festival, Sheffield    June
Oxford Fringe    June
Exeter Fringe    June
Pulse Festival, Ipswich    June
Ludlow Festival    June
Glastonbury    July
Newbury Comedy Festival    July
Latitude Festival    July
Montreal Just for Laughs    July
Petworth Festival    July
Harrogate International Festival, North Yorkshire    July
Winchester Hat Fair    July
Kings Lynn Festival    July
Buxton Fringe    July
Buxton Festival     July
Stockton Weekender    August
Leicester Fringe    August
Worcester Festival    August
Edinburgh Fringe    August
Calgary Fringe    August
Camden Fringe    August
Leeds Fringe    August
Didsbury Arts Festival    September
Nottingham Comedy Festival    September
Dublin Theatre Festival    September
Vancouver International Improv Festival    September
Windsor Fringe    September
Jules Munns, Nursery    October
Brighton Comedy Festival    October
Harrogate Comedy Festival, North Yorkshire    October
Brighton Comedy Fringe    October
Belfast Festival    October
Reading Comedy Festival    October
Sheffield Comedy Festival    October
Birmingham Comedy Festival    October
Newport Comedy Festival    October
Melbourne Fringe    October
Cheltenham Comedy Festival    November

Improvised Comedy Shows and Classes

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A brief history of rough theatre for improvisers

In the 16th century bands of Commedia dell'Arte actors traveled Europe, performing in market places, outdoor festivals and carnivals. Their show was fun, fast and noisy and incorporated mask, music, singing, acting, acrobatics, improvisation, script, satire, impressions and comedy. The audience shouted out, interacted and were part of the show. If they didn't feel part of the show they just left. The topics, themes and characters were current.

Shakespeare then wrote rowdy plays featuring love, death, comedy, tragedy, clowns. He even used some Commedia scenarios. The audience would boo, hiss and clap as the show went along. They would talk during the performance (it's only recently that this became unusual), food and drink would be passed around. The 'groundlings' would pay a penny to stand in front, and would sometimes even heckle the actors. Again many of his themes, characters and targets were current. Moments of comedy would follow moments of tragedy, and there might even be a little dance at the end. It was smelly, rowdy, and fun. 

In the 17th century Restoration comedy appeared, following a weird banning of all theatre by puritans. When theatre was allowed back it was rebellious, naughty and comedy. Everyone from aristocrats to servants would go and watch. 
After some censorship from Victorians there was another rebellion, this time with Music Hall. Walking around London now it's hard to imagine what a major thing these were. They were everywhere, not just in some allocated 'TheatreLand' of the West End but they were across the whole town, in the suburbs and more. And they were massive. Huge halls full of people getting pissed and having a good time. Watching various acts - singing, comedy, sketches, juggling, people bouncing balls with precision. There was no fourth wall, the audience could laugh and boo to their heart's content. The same thing was happening in America with Vaudeville. Charlie Chaplin started in Music Hall, heavily influenced by his own form of improvisation and taking improvisation into the movies, where he would make up the entire script as he went along filming.

Also in America the carnivals were touring around all over the place, offering a mix of music, rides, freak shows, strip acts and various wonders of the world. With this theatre the people of the town would come down and walk around the strip, watching snippets of acts, before deciding what to pay and see. If it wasn't any good for the audience, nobody came to see it, simple as that. And your potential audience was right there walking on the sawdust floor outside your tent. (Read memoirs of sword swallower for all that).

Peter Brook's book The Empty Space defines all this as Rough Theatre - "Salt, sweat, noise, smell: the theatre that's not in a theatre, the theatre on carts, on wagons, on trestles, audiences standing, drinking, sitting round tables, audiences joining in, answering back: theatre in back rooms, upstairs rooms, barns: the one-night stands, the torn sheet pinned up across the hall."

Sound familiar improvisers?

David Shepherd, founder of Compass Players that went on to be Second City, had an ongoing dream of a rowdy working class theatre with all the crowd up on stage. At the same time Keith Johnstone was inspired to create theatre that had the same heat of wrestling.

When Film and TV came out it almost immediately killed of the Rough Theatre, with Music Halls and Vaudeville dying within a few years and just some of the stars making the transition. The audience for Rough Theatre are now captivated by The X Factor, watching in small units rather than the mass communities of Music Halls. 

But now people are getting fed up of TV and Film. The mass channels means that entertainment is no longer centralized, and is going back to the decentralized and maybe even local model of before.

But in the meantime what has happened to the Rough Theatre of before?

For some reason we've severely classified stuff and separated our entertainment by genres. We have impro nights, stand up gigs, rock gigs, sketch gigs. 

Shouldn't it all just be together? The Rough Theatre of old thrived on multi-skilled people working together to add variety. 

Sometimes I wonder if we, David Shepherd and Kevin Johnstone think we want impro to take off, but deep down it's actually a more archetypal Rough Theatre that we long for - more of a feeling than a product. A kind of of direct human reaction to the removal of something that's been with us for generations. Is it a coincidence for instance that impro first took off at about the same time TV was becoming widespread, in the exact same countries that were the first to get TV?

Perhaps impro isn’t taking off because it’s called impro. Why classify something in terms of the process rather than the benefit? So why don’t we just do it, and embrace the essence of impro into other things, other forms, work to create a greater whole. Bands, dancing, stand up, impro, sketch, mask, impressions, ridicule, cabaret, spec acts, circus, all united in one aim - the human reaction.

Back in the day it was entertainment, to get people enjoying themselves.

Theatre to me isn’t the glossy program, expensive small tub of ice cream, and sitting in neat rows looking at a film set. For me it’s cheap spotlits plugged into extension leads, primark black double bed sheets used as back drops, beer in GLASSES with tables to put them on, and people turning up late after work.

It's time to decentralise entertainment, and make it something connected to and born out of life, and encouraging life, rather than a distraction from it. Claim entertainment for ourselves.

Improvisation Classes Monday, Thursday, Saturday
Improvisation Shows Tuesday, Wednesday

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Presence Workshop Notes

These are from this week's Monday night workshop on Presence. Largely influenced by a combination of Patsy Rodenburg's book Presence and Keith Johnstone's chapter on Being There, with a bit of John Wright's Why is that so Funny thrown in. 

Patsy's book goes more into theory so I won't write about that much here, but very briefly she splits presence into three circles of energy:

1st Circle - energy is going inwards, withdrawn, wanting to retreat from the space. Defending by retreat.
3rd Circle - broadcast mode, energy is going outwards but with no connection back to the actor, they are defending themselves by controlling.

So she says to aim for 2nd Circle energy, where there is a constant flow of energy outwards and inwards, a connection, and the person is present in the space and with other actors and audience.

So on to the exercises:

Stretches. Unlocking the knees. Reaching up with hands. Flopping down from waist. Hanging with head and arms low and nice and relaxed. Rising from base of spine. This happens at the start of loads of workshops I go to and it actually originates from Patsy Rodenburg. 

Sounds outside the room. Do straight after the stretches. The actors have their eyes closed and in silence listed for sounds coming from outside the room. It's amazing how many sounds there are. This is excellent at making people present in the space and is very relaxing. I do it just before a show I'm worried about. 

Looking at things in the room. Actors open their eyes and just look at things in the room. Then they walk around naming them and touching them. It's amazing how many things we normally miss.

Mirroring. Actors are in pairs and act as if there is a mirror between them. One leads and the other follows as mirror image. Do in silence and remind them to unlock their ankles and knees so the whole body can follow. Swap roles. Then do it where no one in the pairs is leading, they both copy each other at the same time and build on what is already happening. This makes people very connected to each other. 

We then did it where the whole group would copy each other if pairs were close, it seemed to create one big creature. 

Stimulus and response. Keep the same set up and energy as mirroring, except this time people can have a reaction to the move rather than just coming. It doesn't matter what they do, just keep the connection. This is now the energy of 2nd circle, give and take of energy with constant flow between the two people. 

We continued this but with the whole group doing it together, working together as machines creating whole devices, and then flowing from one machine to the other. Keith Johnstone actually belittles machines in his book but I find them the most useful physical impro game going. 

Then something completely different, about being present with an audience. This game is either loved or hated. Some people do it and they don't see the point, some people do it really easily, some people find it the hardest most frightening thing ever. 

You have to go up in front of the audience, by yourself, and without retreating just stand there nice and relaxed and repeatedly tell them "I'm not doing anything, I'm just stood here, I'm not doing anything, I'm just stood here, not doing anything." But the thing is you actually have to mean it, and not do anything, just be yourself. 

Some people go up straight away and play it and there is a presence about them where we feel drawn into them, and feel like we know them even if this is the first time we've seen them. 

Some people go up and it feels like they are lying, for some reason we can sense a shield of defense that has been put up. So we keep the game going uncomfortably long. At some point, usually at the point where they are thinking 'what's the fucking point in this?' they drop their defenses with a sigh or a giggle and suddenly we are momentarily let into their world and the audience laugh warmly. After that they hopefully stay there for a bit, and realise it's fine to just be and they are not in danger. 

After that, quite an abstract game, I decided to do a more scene based Keith Johnstone game. I chose 3 words at a time from his Being There chapter. I don't usually like word restriction games. My least favourite impro game in the whole world is the alphabet game - I mean have you ever seen this work in a show, ever? Who actually likes the alphabet game? 

Anyway, we started with the 3 word at a time game but I found it was actually making the actors un-present as they were just thinking about the words. So we switched to the 1 word at a time game and it was awesome, all the scenes were excellent. With only 1 word at a time there is less to worry about and the word that spurts out is usually summing up the overall feeling, or the most important stuff, or moving things on. 

Saying 'keep the same energy and connection you had in the mirror game' seemed to be a useful direction, and it meant that inbetween speaking the actors were emotionally connected and also very physical. 

Lots of fun scenes produced including a sailor desperately convincing a captain that an iceberg was coming, two teenagers on an awkward date on a farm, and a wife having an affair. All had platforms and action that were clear and fun, decreasing the words lead to really fun scenes that were easy to follow.

This bit is where a conclusion would go, but I haven't got one. Other than impro done well with people focussing on the deeper things is fun to watch and magical.

Hoopla. Workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Shows Tuesday and Wednesday.