Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Hoopla's Improv Memories of 2014

2014 was a busy year for improv in London. There seems to be more improv shows, more improv nights, more improvisers, more audience. Improv in London is growing and growing and growing. 

It felt like that 2014 was the year that improv in London got its own identity. For years we were a bit confused. Chicago seemed to be all about long-form, New York a faster more commedic long-form, IO relationships, UCB game of scene, etc. It often seemed that North American improv knew what it was but we weren't sure. 

But in 2014 it felt like the improv scene in London decided we could actually be everything and anything. We have space for short-form, long-form, narrative, musical improv, solo improv, clowning, serious improv. London is perfectly placed with great links to Chicago, LA, New York, Austin and Toronto, and also to Europe and the great theatre tradition of the UK. 

London this year has really become a melting pot of all types of improv, open to all schools of thought and all improvisers. Because there isn't one over-riding school of thought performing here has become very open, very experimental, and vibrant.

There's also been a great increase in the number of improv nights. We've been running shows almost every night of the week at The Miller in London Bridge, and there have also been new regular nights opening up like Duck Duck Goose and C3Something. 

In no particular order here are some of my favourite memories of improv in 2014:

  • The sheer bonkers fun of Lewis Harrison-Barker's Improvision the Improvised Eurovision Song Contest. It feels like he's re-found the glory days of alternative comedy cabaret from the 1980s (an inspiration for me). 
  • Michael Brunström's The Human Loire, it's been great seeing a friend get nationwide press for something so fun, so silly, and so him. 
  • Guesting in Glitch the improvised puppet show, this was a tonne of fun and also the most difficult improv I've ever done. Improvising the voice of one puppet while moving the feet of another and then improvising a song!
  • Improvising a song for my 5 year old niece at Christmas called 'wear your hat on your feet' and her inventing the next lines 'wear your scarf on your head', 'put a cherry on your car', 'put some cream on your house'. Game of the scene seems pretty natural to five year olds!
  • Appearing on stage with my lovely wife, both inside the same costume.
  • Busting out an improvised panto.
  • The sheer bonkers chaos of Goblins the improvised mask show.
  • A beginners course ending with all of us dancing in the workshop studio for an hour afterwards in the summer sun, it felt tribal man!
  • Late night improv jams, especially ones with drums and Jake getting fired to the moon on a piano. 
  • Having a diverse range of people performing at our nights and working together.
  • Seeing new nights start up and be so loved by the improv scene, like Duck Duck Goose, C3Something, Shoot from the Hip and more. They have done loads for the improv scene and London is the better because of it.
  • Mike taking the best wedding photo every using his phone.
  • Lots of great guest teachers at The Nursery. 
  • People that inspired me to get into all this actually appearing at our venue! Like Paul Merton, Mike McShane and Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall. Colin Mocherie if you're reading this you are welcome any time!
  • Having a massive improv summer picnic in Hyde Park.
  • Watching new groups like The Pina Colliders come out of our Launch Pad nights. 
  • Watching so many people get into improv for the first time, start improvising more, perform for the first time. Always amazingly brave, always amazing to watch.
  • Lots of new shows forming, this is so exciting for me. I love how many opportunities there are to perform in London now and seeing new shows is great fun.
  • Having new teachers working with us like Maria, Max, Chris, Katy and more, it's great being able to spread improv and work as a team.
In fact writing that made me realise that a lot of what I love in improv right now is the more chaotic side of improvising. I don't really care if someone misses an offer, or the structure isn't right, I just enjoy the sheer human spontaneity and chaotic joy of it all.


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Don't Quit. Advice from the late great Joan Rivers in the sitcom Louie.

I've often felt like quitting performing improv, but every time I feel like that something happens to get me back into it, and sometimes the inspiration can come from unexpected places. 

Most recently it was from watching the Louie CK sitcom Louie, which is the best thing I've seen all year. At places it feels like the show is talking directly to me, it's really funny, and also features a surprising amount of advice and guidance for up and coming performers. 

The scene below in particular I found helpful.

In this scene Louie has just done a shitty comedy gig in the smaller Lounge Room at a casino, and ended up quitting his job there. He bumps into Joan Rivers after the show, who is also performing at the casino but in the bigger theatre space, and here's what happens:

[clink of glasses]
Joan: To comedy

Louie: Thank you very much

Joan: So, you're in the lounge?

Louie: Well, I was

Joan: You were fired?

Louie: I quit

Joan: What do you mean you quit? Nobody quits

Louie: I quit

Joan: Are you crazy? Are you a trust fund baby that you quit?

Louie: No, it's just they got upset because I was saying stuff about the casino, I was making fun of Trump.

Joan: You're in a Trump hotel. You don't fun of the owner of the hotel, are you crazy? He's not going to hire a comedian that's going to say fuck Donald Trump.

Louie: I know but I just I 

Joan: You know, this is not an easy business. You want to try my life sometimes? I work at Arizona, how about that? And Indian casinos, you think that's easy? You tell a joke they don't like, instead of a tomato they throw a tomahawk. What do you expect? I mean, you've got a job, how lucky are you for goodness sakes?

Louie: Yeah but come on, you're in the nice theatre here. They've got me in the shitty lounge.

Joan: I was in the shitty lounge sweety puss, two years ago. For all I know I'll be back in the shitty lougne two years from now, and you'll be in the main room. Things change, that's the business. Look at the perks you are getting, you've got a job, you've got a card for the free food in the employee cafeteria. I mean stop bitching and go buy a pocket that's lined with plastic and throw food in when nobody's looking. 

Louie: Yeah great.

Joan: You know what's wrong with you guys? You don't know when you're lucky. Appreciate where you are for god's sakes. It goes up it goes down. I thought I had the lock on old. And then guess what? Back from the dead, Betty White. Dusted off her old dumb tits and trotted them out. It could happen to you. You think you're doing so well and then Dane, what's his name, Dane Cook guy that asshole, he could come out and take your job from you. Know when you're lucky. 

Louie: Yeah I know. Yeah I know all that. It's just sometimes I get sick of the bullshit. 

Joan: Sick of the bullshit?? What is your problem? I am a million years old, do you know that? Do you know what I've been through? I've been in this business for a million and two years, and I'm a woman. It's not easy. Do you know how many blowjobs I had to give to get where I am now? Come one, give me a number, give me a number? How many blowjobs did it take for Joan Rivers to end up in a suite with lots of flowers?

Louie: I don't want to guess that.

Joan: Come on guess, come on. To go from clubs to Carson from Carson to Fox and my own show on daytime and an Emmy and then the red carpet, come give me a number. 

Louie: I don't want to guess. 

Joan: Guess guess come on, give me a number. I want to hear your number.

Louie: 40?

Joan: Excuse me?

Louie: Around 40.

Joan: What the fuck? How dare you! [she hits and slaps him]

Louie: I'm sorry

Joan: I haven't given any, none! None!

Louie: I'm sorry

Joan: I don't do blowjobs. Smell my breath. I don't do blowjobs!

Louie: I'm sorry. 

Joan: That's not what gets you places in this business for god's sakes. God.

Louie: I thought you were saying it was a lot, I'm sorry. 

Joan: Don't talk to me anymore. 

Louie: I'm sorry.

Joan: Listen, I'm a mother, are you a mother?

Louie: No, I'm not a mother.

Joan: Yeah well I thought you were, the way you whine like an old bitch with fat twins, that's what you whine like. And you listen to me, I have done it all. I have done it all. And the only thing I've learnt, the only thing I've learnt is, you don't quit. You don't quit. You have a job for god's sakes, you don't quit a job. 

Louie: You're right.

Joan: Of course I'm right. Listen, you'll be fine. You'll be absolutly fine. Tomorrow morning you go down stairs, and you go tell Sam, it is still Sam right? 

Louie: I don't know, I don't remember his name.

Joan: What do you mean you don't remember his name? You work for the guy, you've got to know the guy's name. How can you work with someone and not know their name? You think you only meet these people once? You've got to learn their names for god's sake. You learn their names on the way up, so when you need their help on the way down you have their name. 

Louie: His name is Sam, I think his name is Sam. 

Joan: His name is Sam, and he is a person. Tomorrow morning you go down there and you say 'Sam, I'm sorry, I was wrong' that's important 'I want my job back'

Louie: Ok, alright

Joan: Listen, I wish I could tell you it gets better, but, it doesn't get better, you get better. You think it's been easy? I've been up I've been down I've been bankrupt I've been broke. But you do it. You do it because....we love it more than anything else. That's why you're doing it. If you want a real job honey, there are a million things you can do, but what we do is not a job. It sounds so stupid, what we do....is a calling, my dear. We make people happy. It's a calling.
Books to read if you feel like quitting

I also find the following books really helpful:

The War of Art
The Artist's Way 

Helpful Quotes

"The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." Aristotle

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." Theodore Roosevelt

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” Earl Nightingale  

"You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love." Jim Carey (full video at http://youtu.be/V80-gPkpH6M)

"You are either going to do something, or you're not. Decide what one it's going to be and commit, but don't fuck about in the middle." My Dad! 

Experiment. Play. Allow yourself to get it wrong, but keep playing. 

Getting it wrong in front of an audience can feel painful, but it's part of the learning. Don't quit, learn from it, keep playing, keep playful. If you're going to have to get it wrong 1000 times before you've finally got it, start getting it wrong now!

"Accelerate your rate of failure" - Keith Johnstone. 

Don't wait for permission
Don't wait for evidence that you're on the right track
Don't wait for approval
Don't wait for encouragement
Don't wait for the right time
Do it now
Why people might not give encouragement

Sometimes all we need is someone to say "go for it"! But we have to be able to take action without needing that. 

Why don't people give encouragement? Because by giving encouragement they also feel responsibility for you. They care about you, so want to keep you safe.

So learn that the only person who can take responsibility for you is you. The person who can really say "go for it" to you, is you. Whatever you feel like doing next year, do it.

The subtle ways people quit in improv

These are things I've said or done myself over the years and have also seen regularly. Having awareness is helpful! 

"I want to perform but I don't want to do all the admin". For me this is similar to saying "I want to get into swimming but I don't want to walk to the swimming pool, and I find the changing rooms a bit chilly". The best performers I know, who also earn a living from performing, aren't in a magical place where they don't do any admin, they do even more of it. But they've learnt to do it more efficiently, and they work, hard. 

The slow dissolve. This is pretty common, a group is going really well and then it just kind of finishes, without anyone making the decision that it is finished, and before you know it 2 years have gone by. Be fiercer and more honest with yourself, and ask what are you actually doing each week? Keep on top of what you're doing, and don't let fun things die. And read War of Art, it's good for this. 

Dropping the ball. The moment when just as someone has finally 'cracked it' and is stood on the doorway of success they suddenly stop. Their mind will swamp them with loads of reasons, but actually it's that the glimmer of success (which also suggests change) scares them and they jeopardise themselves and give up just when they were about to make something amazing. The good news is that if this happens to you, you can pick the ball up again even if it's years later. 

Dropping the ball happened to me with solo performing. I did it a couple of years ago, mixing improv, stand up and characters and loved it so much, received such a loud signal in my head that screamed 'YOU SHOULD DO THIS' that I got totally scared and did nothing for two years! I'm only just coming out of my shell with this now, and about to pick up the ball again.

Best of luck everyone!
So don't quit! I don't even know who is reading this, but don't quit! Whatever creative endeavour you're thinking of doing next year, go for it. It might be hard work, it will be hard work, but it's worth it.

Do something beautiful that wouldn't exist if you weren't there.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Improv Videos

We did a shout out on Twitter for improv video recommendations, many thanks everyone including Shem Pennant (@each1teach1 and @C3467X), Conor Jatter (@MrJattski) and @ZedEarl for your suggestions, here are some of our favourites:
>> Death by Roo Roo - monoscene (weird sound at start but worth the wait)
>> Upright Citizens Brigade - ASSSSCAT Improv
>> Whose Line is it Anyway With Special Guest Robin Williams
>> House of Lies Part 1. Part 2.
>> Joe Bill and Jill Bernard Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.
>> Never Before, Never Again: Behind-the-Scenes of Asssscat
>> Improv Legends
>> TJ & Dave - TUTIAMU
>> The Brothers Hines
>> The Reckoning performs perfect Harold - Part 1
>> One Night Stand - "Poop Deck Love"
>> Beardyman - Live in the Underbelly: The Full show
>> Beer. Shark. Mice. October 17, 2009
>> Trophy Wife Improv
>> Bangarang!/UCB/Harold Night/1-10-11/Show #1/Truffles
>> Robber Baron Show # 1
>> Kurt Braunohler's one man harold
>> Harold of Galacticus
>> Trike
>> SAG Foundation

Getting Improvisers into TV & Film

At our last improv networking event I made an announcement that I was keen to bridge the gap between the live improv scene and TV and Film.

At the moment in London it feels like there is a certain limitation on the career of a performing improviser, they get into a regular team, perform lots, but the highest career point can feel still feel like a small fringe theatre or pub venue. This is still lots of fun, and is the core of great improv, but I think there is more that performers can do.

I was talking to Rhiannon Vivian (from Music Box and The Maydays) who has recently got back from a couple of months in New York, performing and studying with places like UCB, The Pit and The Magnet Theatre. She said that in New York  there is a stronger link between the live improv scene and the Film and TV industries. Agents, Talent Scouts and Producers regularly come to live improv shows there and cast for actors directly from the improv theatres. Apparently this does have the side effect that the improv scene can feel more competitive than here, but it also means that improv feels more like a valid career rather than a naughty hobby.

Also in America and Canada shows comedy shows have a long history of using improvisers as the actors, writers, directors and show-runners. In fact improv skills can be seen as the grounding of many great comedy shows like Saturday Night Live, Portlandia, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks & Recreation, Community, Louie and more. Improv is cool. I’ve never been cool so that sounds really naff to say. But improv inspired comedy on American TV is awesome. And I haven’t even mentioned the movies.

One thing those shows have in common is they don’t feel the need to call themselves an improv show, and maybe that’s something we could learn from here when trying to get improv inspired things on British TV and Film. Those shows use improvisers, they have heavily improvised dialogue and situations, but they call themselves comedy shows first and foremost. Maybe relentless trying to get improv on TV as ‘an improv show’ is what actually limits the possibilities. Perhaps it’s like trying to put on a play at the theatre and calling it ‘The Method Acting Show’.

This is already changing in London, there are quite a few improvisers now appearing regularly on TV in this country, so it feels like a good time to go for it.
After making the announcement at the networking event there’s been lots of people getting in touch, I’ve even been slightly overwhelmed actually, but it’s really exciting.
And a plan is starting to form.

What I'm personally doing at the moment is writing loads and loads of sketches and situations to improvise around, and I'm planning to film them over August when we’ve got time off from our improv courses, working with a variety of cast and crew from the improv scene. I’m going to be casting improvisers in them and the sketches will be heavily improvised on camera, around a given situation.

Then I'm going to be launching a Hoopla youtube channel and comedy videos website, a bit like funny or die but without the die bit, and a bit like the ucbcomedy website. I think there's some good comedy on youtube but it can be hard to find among the billions of videos. So I’m going to build a separate website that hand selects the best stuff and points to videos, both videos we’ve made and other peoples stuff (with their permission). So let me know if you have videos you’d like to appear on that.

After experimenting with that, and what works with youtube and other online audiences, I'm going to be promoting the best videos and building up subscribers. After that I’m going to be spreading word with TV and Film companies regularly and building up a relationship with them, basically saying ‘Hey, look at this!’

In the meantime I've also started building up a contact list of TV and Film people, to keep an ongoing relationship about the improv scene and send them a monthly email newsletter of what's going on in the improv scene, videos to watch (not just mine but anyones), hot shows, and actors to watch out for. This is to build up awareness of talent in the improv scene so that when they are casting or looking for actors they'll look for improvisers. I think sometimes not using improvisers in the UK is just due to lack of awareness, rather than a deliberate choice.

So improvisers it's time to stop being coy and be bold!

If you’re interested in getting involved here’s what I’m especially looking for at the moment (casting for our videos isn’t happening until later in the summer):

- People who work in TV or Film or Online Content and would like to be kept up to date with what’s happening in the UK improv scene (top shows, top videos, actor actress recommendations).

- Professional actors and actresses from the improv scene who would like to be included in our newsletter to TV and Film Industry (especially if you have a Casting Call Pro, Spotlight Link, online showreel).

- People who are also making comedy videos and would like us to help boost audience by having us point to them from our new website.

Email address is hooplaimpro@gmail.com (it might take us a couple of days to properly reply at the moment).