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?