Thursday, 24 May 2012

Maps of the stage, what different areas of the stage mean and how to use them.

This comes from a staging and scenework workshop I was teaching a couple of weeks ago at one of our Monday improv classes.

The first bit also comes from workshops done with Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery, who I think originally did it with Ken Campbell. 

For a while I've been thinking about what makes people look really 'good' on stage during impro. Sometimes people are hitting all the right impro notes, but there's just a certain zing of confidence missing from performance. Volume and movement are helpful, but for me another major player is the use of space. 

Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery taught me that the stage can be split into 9 squares, with each square already implying a certain status to the character standing in it. 1 is the highest status area on stage, 9 the lowest status:

Central stage at the front implies the highest status. Apparently the audience's left hand side of the stage is higher status as we read left to right. 

When we were working with Adam recently he said that an improviser who is loosing confidence and has found themselves drifting back to the stage can deliberately walk to square 1 to raise in status and deliver a strong line that gets them back on track. 

As a group you can deliberately use the space, covering each square you choose, to create something beautiful on stage. 

Hoopla Modifications

I've found the above works well for a theatrical style impro show in a proper theatre space. However a lot of impro is fighting a bit of a loosing battle when it comes to staging as it often takes place in spaces that aren't perfect for theatre, like rooms above pubs, in corners of pubs, free fringe venues etc. The appearances of things like radiators on stage, posters, tatty paint, windows etc all serve to distract the audience and shrink the space. 

We're aiming to suspend the audience's disbelief, welcome them into a space where anything can happen, and bring them into imaginary worlds that they see and believe. It's quite hard to do this if most of the audience are thinking "what's that fire extinguisher doing there?"

Also the audience in these alternative spaces aren't aware what the performing space actually is, unless you show them. When they walk into a proper theatre there is a better distinction between audience and stage, and it's pretty obvious what area the stage is. Areas of the stage don't die in proper theatres just because nothing is happening in them, the space itself keeps them alive. 

However in alternative venues we have to keep the space alive ourselves. If we perform all our scenes on one spot the space gradually shrinks around us until the audience just see two people in a room above a pub. However if we activate the space and keep it alive the audience start to experience theatre. 

Another challenge in alternative venues, especially with people new to impro, is that the audience aren't just seeing your space on stage as a character and staging choice, they are seeing it as a measurement of how nervous the improviser is. 

In the diagram above if a scripted play features two people having a conversation together in square 9 we will interpret it as a deliberate choice, especially if it is helped by the surrounding props/scenery. However in a lot of impro we actually just interpret them as being scared of the audience, loosing confidence, and trying to get away. 

Also in these sort of venues it's quite hard to see all the actors all the time, due to non-raked seats combined with floor high stages. For these reasons it's harder to imply depth, and even with people using the whole stage it can appear two dimensional. 

There seem to be slightly different rules going on for these kind of spaces. So for these reasons we came up with a different map:

Fun Zone:
I got this word from Oxford Comedy Deathmatch, and love it so much I now use it all the time. Your average improv scene is improved greatly by bringing it into The Fun Zone, especially towards the front of the Fun Zone. When improvisers get nervous they start to retreat to the back wall, or sides, and stay there. Get into the fun zone and whatever you're doing will be more fun. We can all see you and hear you in the Fun Zone, and you don't block anyone else. You don't have to worry too much about height in the Fun Zone, just have fun. 

However remember to activate the other zones too, with actions, grabbing props, looking at views, entrances and exits. Otherwise before you know it the performance space will shrink like cling film around you and before you know it you're just a person in a room above a pub again, instead of the princess on top of a castle that you were at the start of the scene.

Back Zone: This can be a danger zone, as improvisers can drift there when nervous or stuck in their heads. It can be used deliberately though. In Music Box we use it as the area to do background dancing/clowning while someone is singing in the Fun Zone. You can also play props in the Back Zone to add depth. In Music Box we tend to grab a chair to stand on, so you can give height in a flat space. When acting I like to think of the Back Zone as having a time limit, like near the net in basketball, so that unless you have a good reason to be there you should get out. 
If you want to draw on a blackboard, paint a picture, look out of a window and talk out of a view, try to put it on the fourth wall in the Front Zone rather than on the Back Zone wall. 
Be aware of height in the Back Zone, you'll have to be taller to be seen. 

Front Zone: Good place to hang pictures in your scene, paint walls, write on black boards etc. By putting these things here rather than on the back wall the audience can see your beautiful face and feel like the action is for them. It's also a good place to put props like kitchen sinks and operating tables, as other improvisers are then less likely to walk through them. 
As a host I often deliberately walk along the length of the front zone before the show starts to get audience taking their feet and drinks off the stage and to signal where the performing space is. 
If doing a scene in an outside setting you can still put props here, low down props work well. 
While you're having a dialogue with another improviser try referring to things on the fourth wall, picking them up, touching them, allowing them to inspire you. 
Height wise it's good to play low here, unless you're really making a big statement as a character. Low characters looking up at high characters in the fun zone can add focus here. 
Be aware that if you act the whole time in the front zone you might accidentally intimidate the audience, as you might be too loud, block their view of other actors, or even accidentally spit on them! 
Returning to the Fun Zone like a Squash Player returns to the T seems quite effective, leaving the Front Zone free for putting props in or making bold statements/taking focus. 
Be aware of height in the front zone, you might have to crouch if there are loads of people on stage. 

Side Zones: Good places to activate when coming on stage with props, things on walls, objects, doors etc. Not great for staying in to act for too long as we'll unbalance the stage. Good for going to get a prop you don't expect and find inspiration. Good place to put yourself if you want to loose focus for a bit while someone else is in focus in the scene.

Corners: Corners can be very helpful in impro, so I've given them special prominence away from the back zone etc. By having two actors talk to each other across the corners (front corner to back to corner) note that the diagonal is brought to life and suddenly we signal to the audience that the whole stage has come to life. 
Back corners can be good entrance points (think servant delivering message) and can have the effect of adding depth, especially if the other actors are towards the front on the other side. Front corners can be good heroic or bad guy entrance points.
Front corners can be great for playing little asides where two characters want to talk to each other without the other characters on stage listening. 
Front corners can also be great for revealing secrets to the audience, or even talking direct to the audience Commedia Dell'Arte style. 

Heights: In general it's good to have an awareness that if you're near the front of the stage you need to be lower down to stop blocking the people behind you, unless it's a deliberate high status/high impact choice. Playing with heights and space can add loads of depth to the scene, and make it look super cool.


Before you do these you can use masking tape to map out your stage map on the floor. 

Experiencing the Space: Get two actors up. Get them to take any square each, just stood their neutrally and silent. Ask them how it feels. Ask the workshop what it looks like is happening. Experiment with turning them in different directions, making eye contact with each other, looking at audience, facing towards or away etc. Repeat and experiment with all the different stage positions. You'd be surprised how it already looks like something is happening. 

Building Montages: Get six people off stage. Give them a suggestion of a location. They have to build a scene picture/montage of that location as a freeze frame within 5 seconds. Get them to be aware of the different areas of stage, and the different ways of using height and giving focus. Eye contact is also helpful, including across the diagonals. 

Activating the Space and Entrance: Two actors, one off stage, one on stage. Give them a suggestion of a location, or nothing at all if they're up for it. On stage actor activates the space by moving around each area, finding a prop in each area and doing some kind of common action in the fun zone. By going into each area they spread the possible performance space in the audiences eye. For instance a cook is chopping in the front of the fun zone, goes to the front zone to open some cupboards and get a tin, opens it in corner, buts it in bowl in fun zone, grabs apron they forgot from side zone. 
The off stage actor makes an entrance when director gives thumbs up. Their objective is to name the relationship as soon as possible. They can bring in character and emotion. 
As they play the scene out the director can help them by telling them areas of the stage to activate, and experiment with different uses of space, eye contact, distance from each other, and using things on the fourth wall.
Improvisers shouldn't feel the need to stay next to each other when in dialogue, walking away from the other person, activating a different part of the stage, and grabbing a new action, can be a very powerful thing to do. 
Often being physical and playing with the space and grabbing a prop can open up the performer and get them out of a rut. You don't have to wait until you know why you're going somewhere or doing something, just do it and justify it later. 

Beginners find focussing on the local space and a common action at the start of a scene a very welcome distraction from trying to be funny.

Talk/Don't Talk: Two actors start on stage. They are given a location. They start in silence and don't talk until director says so. In this time they activate the different spaces on stage, find different objects, and establish an emotional connection. Once they are allowed to talk they alternate between talk/don't talk whenever the director says. This encourages them to activate the space and keep it alive, and discover bolder physical offers, rather than getting sucked in to a talking heads dialogue. 

Lots of love,


Improv classes and shows

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Clown Exercises

Please see my earlier blog about theory and discussion behind clown and how it can be used for impro. This blog is an additional list of exercises that can be used in workshops. Originally learnt from a combination of workshops with Mick Barnfather, Keith Johnstone and Jay Rhoderick, and also in John Wright's book, so many thanks to them. 

I'll be leading more Clown sessions at our Saturday workshops soon. 

If You Love Me You Would Smile

Two actors face each other. 
Actor One says: "If you love me, you would smile."
Actor Two says: "I do love you, but I can't smile." while Actor Two tries not to laugh or smile. 
They repeat the lines until Actor Two finally smiles or laughs (some will do it straight away and the very concept of a straight face is highly amusing). Actor One can do anything to make the other person smile or laugh, but they have to stick to those lines. Once the actor has smiled they swap over roles. 
Teaches how to engage with your audience, in this case an audience of 1, and to treat it like a game. Also gets people out a rut and trying new things. 

Dolphin Training

Workshop are sat in a row as an audience. One actor leaves the room. We decide a simple thing we want them to do when they come back, for instance picking up a certain chair and sitting on it. When they come back into the room the audience guide them to complete the task by clapping, there is no spoken word or negative feedback. For instance if they walk close to the chair there would be a loud applause, if they pick it up louder applause, if they walk away from the chair the applause stops, and when they complete there is a huge applause. 

Encourage them to stay connected to the audience, be brave in trying different things at the start, but also be very present with the audience so they can work out exactly what it is that is making them clap. They will also have to learn to often 'get out of their box' and just try something completely different when they are stuck in a rut. 
It's also fun if every time they attempt a move they do it as if 'ah-ha, this is definitely it, I've got it now, no problem!" This encourages optimism in the clown. 

Dolphin Training - with Laughter

Same as above, except this time we replace the clapping sound with the sound of laughter. We still pre-decided the task except this time the audience let out a united HA HA HA when the person gets close. The clown is now learning to use laughter as a guide rather than something to be feared. 

Later on we can use this technique with natural laughter, as in there is no pre-decided task so the clown just does stuff until people laugh and then follows that laugh. 

Bravery and taking risks were highly rewarded by the audience, as was being simple and present with them to pick up what was actually working. 

Animal Sounds

Five clowns stood up in a row facing the audience. Each one has to do their impression of a certain animal given by the director. As a director if nobody is laughing just move on to next clown. If people are laughing stay on them. 

Very simple game yet there is a lot in it. Remind them to have eye contact with the audience, commit to it, and if something is working then do it more. 

From this came the concept of 'sticking the dagger in' with a laugh. Some people have a per-conceived notion of how much they can make people laugh. Why be happy with a light giggle? If something is funny do it lots and really stick the dagger in until people are falling of their chair wetting their pants. 

Introducing a Show

Clown has to come into the room and start introducing a show in the style of the old carnival introducers, while simultaneously playing dolphin training with natural laughter for their movements and what they say. They are following laughs, trying new things when laughter stops, or returning to last time they were funny, while staying engaged with the audience. This resulted in some the most hilarious stuff I've ever seen in workshops, including someone attempting to introduce a show while his imaginary Italian mama berated him from off stage, and someone being Simon Cowell and his incredible blinking dance. 

Lazzi Prepare and Perform

We didn't do this at this workshop but I've done it before and it's excellent. The class have some time to prepare their own Lazzi (word comes from Commedia) around some simple task that they keep getting wrong - unfolding a deckchair, stacking glasses etc. They then have to perform to group. 

Waking Up As If You've Never Seen The World Before

The whole class lies down somewhere on the floor or couches with eyes shut and partly asleep. As they wake up it's as if they've never seen any of this stuff before. Their own hands are fascinating, the carpet, the ceiling. Gradually they become aware of other people. Innocent and naive. 

Pointing to Focus

Two clowns interacting, crowd points to whoever has the focus at any point. You can play it as a competition for who has focus, and also compete to not have focus. 

There are loads more and various depths to clowning, lots of it is in John Wright's great book 'Why is that so Funny?'

Lots of love,


Improv classes every Monday, Thursday and Saturday in London.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Beyond impro: list of courses in acting, stand up, puppetry etc

Improv seems to be quite a good start for people jumping into the world of performing. Some people stick with improv for performance, and others use it to go into other areas of performing. 

Also as an improviser it's helpful to expand horizons and learn new things, and then bring them back to impro to freshen it up. 

Recently some people in our workshops were asking about courses in similar stuff, so I thought the following list might be helpful. This isn't a complete list, just things I've personally done and can recommend or have had recommended to me.


Act Up, : Based in Battersea. If you're interested in drama school this company has an excellent track record at getting people through auditions, and they have some excellent links with the top drama schools. If you're not interested in drama school it still gives a good foundation in various elements of acting. 

National Council for Drama Training, : This website has a really helpful list of NCDT accredited drama school courses, if you're interested in getting into drama school this is a good starting point. 

LAMDA, : Of all the drama schools LAMDA seems to have the strongest connection to impro, with Adam Meggido from Showstopper as Head of Foundation.


Mick Barnfather, : Based in London, Hoopla Steve recently did a course with him and really enjoyed it. 

Phillipe Gaulier, : Based in France but sometimes does workshops in London. One of the great Clown teachers, and taught Sacha Baron Cohen. 


Jonathan Kay, Currently based in Glastonbury, master of modern day fooling, solo impro and storytelling.

Commedia dell'Arte

City Lit, : Central London adult education with lots of drama courses that are very reasonably priced. I've got a friend doing the Commedia course at the moment and I've heard it's excellent. 

Kevin Tomlinson, : Currently based in Oxford, an excellent teacher of commedia, mask and improv. 

Stand Up

Logan Murray, or : Hoopla Steve did this course in the Autumn and really enjoyed it. Logan uses loads of improv games in the classes.


Circus Space, : Based near Old Street, London. Loads of exciting looking courses.


Vox Box, : I've done a few lessons with these and they are excellent, really should do more considering I'm in an improvised musical. They have a variety of teachers so it's worth working out who is best for what you want to do. 


Little Angel Theatre,


Pineapple Dance Studios,

Lots of love,

Improvisation Classes and Shows 

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Clown and Improv, differences, similarities, and how they can help each other

I recently did a Clown course with a lovely chap called Mick Barnfather a couple of weeks ago. If you’ve seen me recently you probably know that already, as I tend to start every sentence with “I just did a clown course with Mick Barnfather”.

I found it exceptionally helpful; especially as it strengthened some views I’d already started developing from teaching various improv workshops and shows. But then again, I’m bound to book a course on something I share a view with.

So below are some observations from the course regards differences and similarities between clown and impro, and how they can help each other. Remember this was only a two week clown course, so I don’t mean to cover everything in the style, only my own experiences.

Again, this is just based on my limited experience of clown, not the whole of clown in general! There are also sad and tragic clowns, while this course was based around upbeat comedic clowns.

I’m going to put some of it into practice at some our Saturday workshops.

Connection to the audience and the sound of laughter

In impro we’re often trained, especially early on, to put our full attention on the other actor, away from ourselves, and away from the audience. Keith Johnstone even says things like ‘bore the audience’ and also has whole chapters on how the audience can be misleading and that the sound of their laughter can send improvisers into the wrong direction. I think he even mentions Michael Jackson being trained to grab his crotch by the sound of the audience over the years!

A lot of improv (not all) seems to be about working on a finished craft, where the main focus of attention of the performers is on the story, the game, and the other actors. This is then put in front of an audience, for the audience to see, but not necessarily to adjust that much to the audience. Improvisers get suggestions from the audience, but quite often that is the end of the interaction before its back into the piece/story/game being performed, largely performed in a pre-decided style.

Improv also seems to take place largely in an imaginary world. We take suggestions and then improvise inside these suggestions, inside this imaginary world, where it feels very real to the performers and we hope that the audience is able to suspend disbelief and also believe the worlds we create. The more we believe in our imaginary worlds, emotionally and physically, the more we hope the audience are drawn in and are likely to believe them too.

Improv largely seems to happen behind a fourth wall. It’s a slightly more transparent fourth wall than scripted theatre, but still a fourth wall. Maybe it has a little door in it so we can pop out and get suggestions. The eye contact is largely with other performers or above the audience’s heads when improvisers do a monologue, song or other expression of inner dreams and feelings. It’s quite rare for an improviser to directly address the audience during a scene (even though this was very common in Commedia dell’Arte) and when they do they might even be accused of breaking reality by their team mates after the show.

When improv is going well then all of the above creates wonderful entertainment that the audience enjoy. The audience can inspire actors and watch them create real worlds and characters spontaneously in the moment with stories, games and laughs.

However much of the above can also be responsible for improv’s biggest drawbacks. One of the main criticisms of improv is that it’s self indulgent. Sometimes a real audience can feel that improv seems is being done for the improvisers, and their improvising friends in the audience, and that the show is going over the heads of the real audience. While the improvisers on stage are having a whale of a time, the real people in the audience can feel ignored.

From running an improv venue for two years with shows every week I’d already started to believe that improv needed a stronger connection to the audience from the performers. The audience give off such strong signals if they are bored and confused, and also if they are happy and amused, or interested and excited. Sometimes I find myself watching a show from the back of the room and thinking “this clearly isn’t working, why are they still doing that?” Quite often I feel like improv sticks too rigidly to it’s own perceived improv structure, even when it’s clearly not working on stage and it would be better to just acknowledge that, get off, move on, and try something else.

Also from running the venue I was already of the opinion that laughter isn’t that misleading after all. If people laugh, it’s probably funny. If they laugh a lot for a long time really loudly, it’s really funny. If they don’t laugh at all, it’s probably not funny. If 1 out of 10 people laugh at something half-heartedly, 9 out of 10 people probably aren’t finding it that funny and are probably finding it a little bit annoying that the other 10% are giving off the wrong signals. Yes, there are some laughs that are clearly meant for just a one off thing that isn’t worth pursuing, but overall if there are lots of laughs then generally the show is going well. If it’s improv comedy that is, not all improv has to be comedy.

I’d also already written a blog that mentioned a lot of comedy performers seem to be scared of making people laugh. The second they get a laugh, they move on to something new and abandon it instead of just making more out of what seems to be already working. I see this happen all the time in shows, where the performers are so busy improvising and sticking to the structures of improvisation that they’re forgetting to stop and have fun with the audience, leaving the audience left behind and a little confused.

So for me Clown was the missing link between impro and the audience.

In clown we were taught to have an almost constant connection to the audience. We were constantly told by the teacher “for us, for us” reminding the performer to have eye contact with the audience, see them, be affected by them, be open to them, share with them, be at one with them.

In the clown course the audience were the director. They told us what to do by the sound of their laughter, or the absence of it. When it was going well they told us, and when it wasn’t they told us, and we adjusted or increased what we were doing.

This was taught by various games such as ‘dolphin training’ where the audience guide you to do a specific task in front of them by clapping when you get close. The only way to complete this is to have constant connection with the audience, picking up on their signals. Funny enough this is one of Keith  Johnstone’s great paradoxes, he tends to talk about how the audience can be misleading, but then teaches this exact game which is all about listening to the audience and being totally led by them.

As we did more and more games in front of the audience they gradually became less and less alien and less frightening to the performers, and more a mass human friend to be played with. If something worked then great, do it more, if it stopped working then just try something else or go back to the last time something worked – no problem!  An audience not laughing became wildly amusing and exciting to the performer, as they learnt how much it would be to get them laughing and sharing the enjoyment of life with them. Even dying in front of the audience became fun, as we learnt how to acknowledge in the moment that something hadn’t worked, and just get off, with a drop in energy known as the flop. These flop moments became wildly funny to audience and performer, it was very humanizing to see these people have that open honest connection and stay open while playing failure.

But after a while just open clowning could become a bit samey, with weird noise followed by random movement, and just constantly randomly trying things can look a bit desperate. This for me is when I appreciated what improv gives us. It gives us structure, skills, technique, characters, games, story, group mind, dialogue, everything.

Improv gives us all the tools to entertain the audience, clown gives us the ability to know whether they are working or not and adjust them accordingly. Improv can create whole worlds and characters; clown can connect to the audience directly and make the show for them. So using both together can be highly effective.

Game of the Scene, intellectual verses is it funny?

Game of the scene in improv seems to be taught on a largely intellectual basis sometimes, especially if my research on the internet is anything to go by. Quite often performers are asked ‘what’s the game of the scene?’ as if there is only one possible game and some kind of right answer.

A step up from this is getting the performers to be really playful, get them playing games and having fun like the great open game Kick the Can Marco. If they are in playful moods they’ll quite often find game of the scene intuitively by themselves without really thinking about it.

However there seems to be little talk of what the audience want the game to be. Game of the scene often seems to be discussed as a separate entity that has a form away from the audience.

But recently when directing workshops I’ve found myself using the audience more and more to help spot the first game of the scene. Just start a couple of people off in a scene, with aim of being as normal as possible. They’ll probably go about 8 lines before there will be some sort of chuckle from someone in the audience. That’s a little subconscious signal that there was something in that offer. Usually it will happen at the first weird thing, the first unusual thing, the first funny thing, the first hint of a game. Rather than bury it I then encourage the performers to really explore that moment. If there’s suddenly an escalating wave of laughter, then well done you’ve got the game.

Clown seems to be very similar to this. The clowns in our workshops just did something, did something else, and when there was the laugh they’d really explore that. The direction from Mick Barnfather would be things like:
“I noticed you got a laugh at that, but then you did something else, why did you do that?”
“Go back to the last thing you did that was funny.”
“Nobody was laughing, but you kept doing it, you were too much in your routine, why did you do that?”
“People are laughing when you do that, so do it more.”

Usually at first these laughs/games are just the slightest whiff of an aroma of fun, that we have to breathe in and bring to life for everyone to enjoy.

Playing Failure

In impro we’re taught to justify and incorporate mistakes. If something pops up that doesn’t make sense we make sense of them and incorporate them into our story or game.

I now actually prefer the idea of going one more than this and yes anding the fuck out of mistakes. Rather than treating them as something to be apologized for and swept under the carpet of a perceived pre-existing story, I prefer to think of them as firecrackers that go off and send the story in a whole new direction.

Mistakes in impro aren’t a blip in the story or game, they are the story or game.

Clown is played almost entirely in the world of failure, with loads of the laughs coming from watching someone on the brink of their capabilities.

In impro the moment of failure can be only a second or two, before it is turned into something brilliant and polished.

In clown the moment of failure can be played out for ages. We had flops on stage, a flop corner where failed clowns stood in some kind of detention in front of the audience. We gradually learnt that there is a whole world of character and fun to be played with while experience honest and open failure in front of an audience.

Idiocy verse Playing at The Top of Your Intelligence

I found that they were the same thing. Yeah, funny that! Allow me to explain.

On the first day our clown teacher started by saying that we are already stupid enough to be a clown. You don’t have to be more of an idiot, you already are an idiot. You have to find your inner idiot, but I found by not looking inwards, but by putting myself out there into situations that reveal what an idiot I am. The situation reveals the idiot.

Someone ‘trying’ to play the idiot, or ‘trying’ to think up idiotic things just looked stupid and not that interesting or funny. However someone on the brink of their capabilities having idiotic things accidentally come to them and then play with them was very funny.

I found early on in the course that if I pushed myself physically I couldn’t help but be idiotic. When you’re pushing yourself you are playing at the top of your intelligence, but the top of your intelligence is revealed to be stupid, and that’s when they become the same thing.

For instance there was an exercise where we had to run with our eyes shut across a massive church hall, to be eventually caught by the teacher. I found if I did it at a comfortable pace then I was able to run at a set rate, be caught no problem, look graceful, and the class would politely applaud for a job presumably well done. However on the next time I ran as fast as possibly could, head long into danger, and couldn’t help myself as halfway across I inadvertently let out a girly scream and ended up on the floor clutching the ankles of the teacher for safety, which put the class into hysterics. At the brink of my capabilities my inner idiot was revealed, who at that exact time was also my highest level of intelligence.

So clowns can use their high intelligence to deliberately put themselves in situations where their utter idiocy will be revealed. This reminds me of one of my favourite improv performers, Henry Lewis from The Scat Pack, who’s an incredibly intelligent person who can play the funniest and most stupid characters I’ve ever seen.

Play and Games

On the clown course we’d start every day with a game of volleyball, with the whole group trying to see how long they could the ball up for. This was so much fun and really brought us all back to our playful childish selves that we could then bring into performing. If I’d turned up one day and he said it was just going to be a day of volleyball, I would have been happening.

When people are playing together, genuinely playing and not just pretending to play, there’s a great connection between them and a great life about them.

I think sometimes this can be forgotten in improv. Lots of things we rehearse in improv happen quite naturally when people are playing together.

For this reason I think short-form games are still really helpful for improv groups, even if they aren’t actually performing short-form. By giving a team a pre-defined game in a practice it can get the performers in a playful spirit, so when they are defining their own games in a long-form or narrative piece they have that playful nature about them.

I even re-introduce arms through at a workshop this Monday, which is a game I thought people were fed up, yet it produced some scenes that were so funny people were gasping for air. Yes, it’s a silly game, but isn’t that the whole point? And it’s got a lot in it – you have to be aware of multiple offers, there’s no one leader, you’re constantly adjusting to your scene partner and also your arms, and you have to be physical and attached to someone.

Improv played in the spirit of play and games is fun.

Characters – Go Big

Hey you know that improvised character you just did? You could go bigger with that. Nope, bigger than that. That’s about a 3 out of 10. Push it to about 11. Nope, still about a 4 out a 10. I think you’ve got more.

Lots of love,

Hoopla are teaching clown for improvisers at future Saturday workshops
Additional workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday in London, and Sundays across the UK
Improv comedy club every Tuesday and Wednesday at The Miller in London Bridge.
All the details are at