Monday, 28 December 2015

Improv things I'm looking forward to next year

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:  

Hi everyone,

Hope you had a good Christmas. I love this bit of the year, the gap between Christmas and New Year, it's a blissful oasis of solitary admin for me. I tinker on the hoopla website like real men tinker on MG Roadsters in their garage. I don't talk to many people this week, and go a bit improv cold turkey. 

I have to say that after a break from improv it now seems completely nuts. I currently get nervous asking platform attendants when the rail replacement bus service leaves, and can't imagine having to say anything in front of an audience, let alone something entertaining. I don't think I've changed my voice, posture, emotion, tempo or face in 10 days, and in improv we end up doing that 100s of times in an evening. It's nuts! 

I've also recently had loads of conversations where I didn't actually say what was on my mind there and then, or talk about the relationship. It was quite nice actually, very relaxing. I largely talked about Star Wars, John Lewis, food, brandy and cats instead. I don't think my Christmas would make a very exciting impro scene.

But having a break from improv makes me appreciate it even more. It's a very odd, very wild, very fun and a different thing that seems to break the routine of normal life and send me in new directions.

Now I'm feeling rested and refreshed I'm ready to jump into impro again, and as I'm currently planning some things for next year I thought I'd share what I'm looking forward to:

Making more stuff

I'm really looking forward to making more stuff. I feel like I should have a big plan and focus on one type of stuff. But actually I think it's just going to be lots of different stuff. We've made a start on our youtube channel this year ( and I'm looking forward to making it a regular thing next year.

We're going to be releasing at least one video a week next year, with a mix of improv tips from the wonderful Katy Schutte, recordings of live improv shows, sketches and various interviews and things. Mike, Conor, Ed and others have been doing an awesome job directing and I can't wait to do more.

There's also a podcast/audio thing with Joel Butler, Sophie Pumphrey, Ella Jean and I that I really need to edit and release as it's my favourite thing and makes me laugh. In fact me writing this blog is probably me procrastinating about editing that. But anyway, look out for Jobsworths.   

Recording every improv game ever

Another thing I'm keen to do is attempt to record every improv game ever over the year. We're going to be using my sitting room as a mini studio to do that (thanks George), so anybody that wants to come on over and be in a game for youtube get in touch! I'll put on a buffet. 

Return of cabaret

Over Christmas I realised I really missed the Hoopla cabaret night that we used to run, where it was a mix of improv acts and shorter cabaret acts in between improv. So we're going to be running that again monthly from early in the New Year. So I'm currently booking in cabaret acts and improv groups for shorter sets, email if interested.

If you have a fun 5-10 minute cabaret act get in touch!

Wider audience

I've decided to make our weekend shows a bit more mainstream and suitable for a wider audience who maybe don't know much about improv and are up for a big night out. So I'm keen to book improv acts that are up for that, maybe a bit showbiz and most of all really fun and up for a fun weekend feel. We're going to be doing some wider advertising to get The Miller full each weekend and really lively, and I've also been chatting to some set designers and builders to make the upstairs a bit more showbiz with less kitchen noise!

So get in touch if your improv group is ready for a more mainstream crowd.


We're going to be having TheatreSports back at The Miller on a monthly basis, run by Faye at Story Kitchen. I'm really looking forward to being part of this, it will be great to back in a regularly rehearsing and performing team again as I've been away from that this year and I've really missed it. Faye has gathered a great cast and has a great plan for the year so we're going to be supporting it lots and hopefully making it a big show. Can't wait!  

Osho Leela, Improv Residential

I'm back there with The Maydays in Spring and can't wait. It's a really good experience, improv all day and evening and the ability to chat to people afterwards without having to worry about last tubes and night buses. 

Teaching Again

I teach best after a break. Anything I can't remember I figure I forgot for a reason, so I've found our courses in January and February tend to be more simple and fun.

Teaching Team

We're now training together as a teaching team and swapping notes more than ever. We're very lucky to have such a great bunch of people so I'm looking forward on doing even more as a team next year.    


Edgar and I are going to be running some improv workshops in Ibiza in the summer! Don't know how or where yet, but it's happening somehow. Also me and him are going to be teaming up on one some kind of improv meets party meets club event at some point.  

New Workshop Venues

For our improv courses we've got some new workshop venues we'll be using including some in London Bridge, within staggering distance of The Miller! Which means finally next year there will be workshops and shows happening in the same area! 

Supporting Groups

I'm keen to get more involved in supporting up and coming groups. That might be by coaching, or producing, or just giving advice on promoting and things. I'm especially interested in supporting committed groups that are up for rehearsing and performing regularly over the year for a big weekend audience. If that's you, get in touch! 


London is now having LOADS of improv festivals. Slapdash is back, there's another one with City Impro in February and we're going to be running a whole week of impro in July.

Weird Things

I can't stop myself, I'm going to be doing some weird things still. The Creep is going to be creeping about Edinburgh for no reason, masks are coming back to The Miller, and I love fancy dress so that will be happening more. 

Big Summer Party

We're also working with Jules at The Nursery on a big summer party and some other events too.  

Improv, Bikes, Running, Countryside

We're going to be combining all of the above somehow in the summer, but not sure how yet.

Dave Waller

I miss Dave Waller so I'll be bugging him soon too, along with many others!

There's loads more, looking forward to it.

Happy New Year Everyone!!!!


Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:  

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Talk to each other about each other

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

I just got asked on email about exercises that help coach relationships in improv, so I thought I'd share some of my favourites.

Many thanks to Mark Beltzman and Andrew Gentilli for introducing me to lots of these, and to Conor for inspiring the blog.

That makes me feel

Play a scene where each player starts each line by saying "that makes me feel..." followed by naming the feeling. It's hard at first to name a feeling straight away, but it gets easier with practice. If you don't have words just use sounds, which happens in real life sometimes anyway. For instance "that makes me feel rrrrahhhhh!!"

You look you seem

Scenes where you say "I feel...", "you are being....", "that makes me feel....", "you look ....", "you seem...." as much as possible and then make those emotional calls.

Talk to each other about each other

Scenes where the director asks the players to "talk to each other about each other" and gently side coaches to bring them back to that whenever they drift away. For instance:

Player 1: Dad lovely to see you again.
Player 2: Thanks Timothy, you too, it's nice to be out of prison.
Player 1: I can imagine, that's why I took you to this football match, take your mind off things and all that.
Player 2: Thanks Timothy, oh look hot dogs.
Player 1: Oh yes, hot dogs! Shall we get a hot dog?
Player 2: Yes please with mustard and ketchup and onions.
DIRECTOR: Talk to each other about each other.
Player 2: You really look after me Timothy.
Player 1: Thanks Dad, well you looked after me when I was small.
Plater 2: Well I had too, I'm your Dad! But you've gone above and beyond.

Player 1: Foul! Oi ref!
Player 2: Ref you bastard are you blind?
Player 1: Let's invade the pitch!
Player 2: The referee's a wanker!!!
DIRECTOR: Talk to each other about each other
Player 1: You've always hated authority figures haven't you dad?

So in that scene the players were talking to each other about each other, but when the hot dogs popped up they accidentally got distracted and 'yes-anded' a hot dog instead of the relationship. Same again with the football foul they saw on pitch. So the director who is outside this can help out by getting them back into it.

It feels quite vulnerable talking to each other about each other on stage, so sometimes without realising we create distractions to avoid these moments, but actually the relationship is the fun stuff to go into.

Focus Ball

I think this was invented by Roy at The Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas. I love this exercise.

Two improvisers play a scene as above, trying to talk to each other about each other. Another improviser represents an "emotional focus ball" that floats between them. If they are talking to each other about each other, the relationship, then the emotional ball stays between them and near them or on them. If they start distracting away from the present relationship the emotional focus ball flies away to represent that, and they have to win it back.

It's basically a physical version of the director's side coaching in the game above.

Name the relationship

Another exercise is mini-scenes where you have to establish relationships within five lines. At first this can feel forced but eventually with practice it gets easier and more natural. 

Just saying it is fine, even if it feels a bit crow-barred in, because then you're in the scene. For instance starting with "Dad, I need to borrow the car for a job interview" is fine. 

Mark Beltzman used to say that naming the relationship is just the first quick game you do at the top of the scene, and then you are free to play another game by talking to each other about each other. 

When it comes to naming the relationship it can come from a natural place. Look at your scene partner, before the scene even starts, they are already giving you emotional and physical offers before the scene even starts. Connect to how you are actually feeling, and then blame the other character and the scene for those emotions - you feel like this because of them, your emotions are a valid part of the scene. What does this little moment at the start of the scene, even before the scene, make you feel like? What relationship does it remind you of? Who do you feel like? Who do they feel like to you? Those little whiffs of inspiration you get dancing around inside, turn the volume up on them and saying them out loud and proud as offers. 

What's special about this relationship?

Someone said once that as they'd just done a scene with a husband and wife wouldn't another one just be the same scene? No it wouldn't, because each scene we're exploring what's special about that specific and unique relationship. 

Husband/Wife, Mother/Daughter, Father/Son, Friend/Friend etc are all the initial labels of the relationship, that we can put in at the start of the scene. But by talking to each other about each other we can explore what is unique and special about that particular relationship in the present moment. 

Maybe it's a Father that wants to hang round with his Son's friends as one of his equals. Maybe it's a Father that hates his Son and wants to banish him to a far away land. Maybe it's a Father that loves his Son and wants the best for him. Each one is a totally different relationship and story. 

So don't let the label of the relationship limit you. There's no end of depth you can go into with any relationship and any role you get given in improv.

The story of Romeo & Juliet isn't "there was a bloke called Romeo, a girl called Juliet, they fancied each other, here's lots of other stuff now". The relationship is the story in many ways.

Step on stage to build a relationship

I've actually found it unhelpful to say to improvisers "do a scene". It's not actually an activity they can do, to do a scene. It's a bit like saying to a racing car driver "do a car" instead of "drive".

The scene is what happens around us, it's bigger than us, so you can't "do a scene".

Instead I've found it helpful to get improvisers to replace the words "do a scene" with "step on stage to build a relationship". 

Meisner Technique

Meisnuer Technique training is awesome for playing relationships in improv. It's a bit out of scope of this blog to go into detail about what that actually this, but have a look into it.

Agreement and Relationship instead of Conflict

This is a classic IO exercise. Actors are put in situations that would usually breed nothing but conflict, but instead they have to find agreement and relationship. It's very good at helping people really listen to each line and realise how much is there for them to bond over and find the love!

Hope that helps,


Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Summer fun improv memories.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:  

I'm on a bit of a break from teaching and performing until September now, and I woke up with these happy memories of the year so far and thought I'd share:


End of Course Shows

These are actually my favourite shows ever, it's so exciting seeing people performing improv for the first time and it's always amazing seeing them blow the roof off The Miller! It was great having Steve Tanner and Jon Keene in a performance course, two old school friends of mine who actually named Hoopla years ago accidentally on camping trip to Devon. Also it was great having Hannah from Theatre Delicatessen and Nomad Studio doing a course, it's a classic case of Theatre Deli bonding people together and helping people learn from each other.

Anthony Atamanuik, The Nursery, C3Something

I was lucky enough to do some workshops with Anthony Atamanuik (Death by Roo Roo, UCB). He'd always been a performer I'd love watching (here he is in a monoscene, so it was really inspiring to be taught by him too. His workshops felt totally in synch with what I want to do in improv, and it really woke me up to how funny and exciting improv can be. 

Many thanks to C3Something and The Nursery and Slapdash Festival for getting him and so many other great people over. In London we are in the amazing position of having people from all over the world coming to teach us and perform, it's becoming a melting pot of improv and the improv casserole it is creating tastes delicious. 

Hoopla Summer Festival

We tried out our first ever summer festival of improv with around 25 shows over two days. I enjoyed it so much I actually can't wait to do it again, probably for few more days next summer and maybe a smaller winter version too. I have the greatest respect for Little Sebastian, who did the last act of the first night and even though it was really late and many of the audience had gone to catch last tubes they were totally professional, upbeat and put on a great show. Also LadyG who performed solo and yet was totally committed to big emotions in scenes and combined clowning and improv really well, she also made me laugh loudly from the sound booth. Also Excursions ending the second night with Ella screaming from the back and then transforming the noise into the most beautiful song that has ever happened. Also also also so many fun acts and lovely volunteers and thanks everyone! Oh gosh I'm turning into a lovie. Sod it, nothing wrong with that, I'm a lovie. 


I love our audience, we really do have the best audience ever. People who watched ever show at our festival, we salute you! People waiting to get on front row for RH and Friends. People volunteering to be in games off the cuff. People putting up with the sound of the kitchen next door during a quiet scene on stage. It's great that we now have an improv audience, oh my gosh that's lovely, and we want to keep booking in fun and interesting things for people to see and participate in. 

New Improvisers

It took me bloody ages to pluck up the courage to perform in an improv show, and then ages again to do my second one. So it's amazing to see improvisers who are new to the scene be so supportive and so committed right from the start, there's a real spirit of anything is possible right now and new people are bring new energy that is inspiring everyone.


I love having more teachers with us now, being able to catch up after workshops and swap notes and exercises has been really fun and made it clearer what we are doing and why. The moment I'm lacking motivation or energy I talk to one of them and they pick me up. I actually don't know where they all get their energy from actually, but it's contagious on a good way.    

Improvised Opera

I love doing this so much. It's with a good friend of mine (Becca Marriott) who is a trained opera singer (unlike me) and it's so much fun it's like being on a rollercoaster. I'm hoping to do more of this inbetween Becca doing 'proper' operas. 

Theatre Delicatessen

This place has made such a massive difference to us. Having a place with so much reasonably priced rehearsal space has enabled us to do more, and also helped the improv scene to work together. There were many nights where I think there were about 6 improv groups on the same night, and then hanging out in the bar after. The staff there are amazing too, so professional and friendly.

The Miller

It's also great having a lovely place like The Miller to work with. We've got a really great relationship with James and the rest of the team, and they are really supportive of improv, so it's lovely being in synch with a venue like that. I love being able to buy cider by the box at a pub too, although that is slightly jealous and usually results in me having to get a night bus after some dodgy fried chicken in Borough High Street.  

Performing with Friends

I recently read a blog with some advice from Amy Poehler ( where she said to focus on doing good stuff friends, and I couldn't agree more. In fact I now have it stuck on a post it note above my computer. I love meeting up with people like Joel and Sophie on a Friday morning to record some improvised sketches, or teams to film things, or George and I improvising in the kitchen, or House Band to play some games, that's what it's all about. So hopefully in Autumn we'll be 'getting gooder' with more friends.

Drinking Buddies Sketch

I'm slowly but surely working out how to film sketches and improv, and have tried out a few things this summer. One sketch was The Drinking Buddies Sketch (not yet edited) which was so much fun. I found myself writing something down without thinking ("10 people are stood in my bedroom shouting wake up") and then on the day there's this "holy shit this is real" feeling. Everything we've filmed so far has been so much fun to do, mainly it's the bringing people together and making something from nothing. I'm going to be editing soon and we are going to film loads more in the autumn. It's much harder work than I thought, so new found respect for directors and editors, but also much more fun that I thought. 


The big improv picnic turned into a pubnic due to bad weather, but it was still really fun and nice to chat to people I don't usually get to chat to, without having to worry about last tubes or night buses. 

And loads more, so thanks everyone! Have a great summer and we'll be back with loads more shows and workshops and things from September.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:

Friday, 29 May 2015

Stop measuring yourself against others

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

Recently I've had a few people in workshops who have been looking like they've been having a great time all workshop, have been really fun in all the games, and yet afterwards have revealed in the pub or over email that they actually felt like they were doing really 'badly' and were the 'worse' in the group. 

Often there is a large gap between how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by others. Most of the  performers I know still have this, as do loads of people new to improv. 

So why do measure ourselves to others?

Here's my own experience:

I signed up for a week long intensive workshop with a visting US teacher the other year. Only torwards the end of the week did I realise that all I'd been thinking about was how well I was doing as compared to the rest of the group, whether I was the best or not, and collecting compliments the teacher said to me like mushrooms in Mario Kart. What a waste of time! It could have been a golden opportunity to form a team with the people there, to really bond, to maybe form a show group. But it was just me and my ego, sitting in the corner with my notepad. 

For me I think this attitude is a leftover from my education. 

At school with GCSEs and A-Levels we had to line up to collect our results from the headteacher. One by one we walked into his office, were given our grades, and then had to walk out where there would be about 100 of our year group who would then immediately know. Everyone knew what everyone else had got. We'd been told these results were the most important things in our lives, so how good you felt about yourself was directly connected to what you got and what you got compared to everyone else.

At my university our final results were stuck on a wall. Not a facebook wall, an actual wall. They weren't listed in alphabetical order, but in order of grade. So you would go up and start at the top looking for your name, and the further down you got until you found your name the worse you had done. Everyone else's grades were there to see, everyone knew what everyone else had got, and all they talked about in the pub afterwards was what everyone had got. Being better than everyone meant 'happy', being worse meant 'sad'. 

When studying for most exams there were right and wrong answers (I did a lot of Maths), and right and wrong methods of getting to these answers. Our value and efforts had a directly measurable result that could be directly compared to others, and my entire self worth was wrapped up in my postion in that hierarchy. 

After that there were job interviews, with lots of friends going for similar jobs, and people either got jobs ('happy') or didn't ('sad'), and then there was how much they get paid, yet again more ways for people to measure themselves against others. 

However in improv, and most creative endeavours, there is no right or wrong. This takes ages to really 'get'. There is no right or wrong, no correct outcome, no limits and no rules. The only person that can define what you want to do is you. This is scary at first but eventually liberating. You can do anything you want. What do you want to do on stage or screen? Do that. What do you find beautiful and fun? Do that. Nobody else can tell you that. Courses and things might offer options but really it's up to you to then take what you like and do what you love. 

This can be a breakthrough for beginners. Sometimes they stop mid game and say they don't know what to do, but if you ask them what they actually feel like doing, and they do it, genius can come out. After years in work or education where there is a mystical correct way of doing everything, and a prescribed sequence of actions to be learnt, to be in a fully open and creative environment can be frightening at first but eventually liberating. 

Similarly for performing groups. For ages they can try and perfect a set form, but usually they become amazing when they discover what is unique about them and pursue what they find fun, and often discover a whole new thing.

Because there is no defined value or grading system, because it's an artistic endeavour and therefore defined by the artist, there is actually no reason to compare yourself to others. Every group is singing their own song, so just sing the song you love.

Yet sometimes we don't do the things we love in improv or the arts because we fear being measured by others, but nobody can do that as there is no grading system in the first place, there is no right or wrong. A 100m runner can't tell a 100m swimmer they are too slow at the 100m, they are doing their own thing. 

So you can't do 'badly' at improv as there is no right or wrong in the first place, it is an act of pure art and creativity. And you can't be the 'worse' in the group because there is no grading system.

There are no rules in improv. There are some guidelines that help people play together, but the only person that can define the values/rules/ is you and you are totally free to do what you want. 

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Spirit of Improv

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

There are structural things to improv, the things that hold a show together and enable people to work together as a team, but underlying that is the spirit of improv. 

Here's what the spirit of improv means to me at the moment, written in no particular order as it comes to me:

An audience is watching, your friend walks on stage and does something, you have no idea what they are doing, you jump on and join them anyway. You've never done any acting or improv or anything like that before, you sign up to an impro workshop anyway, you feel terrified on the day but you walk into the room anyway and throw yourself into it. You go and watch a jam, they ask for people to sign up, you weren't going to but you sign up anyway, you end up performing with someone you've only just met on stage. You ask for a genre from the audience, they shout out "French new wave" or something, you have no idea what that it is but do it anyway. You're doing a show that seems bigger than you were expecting, you feel nervous back stage but run on stage anyway and throw caution to the wind. You're doing a show that seems smaller than you were expecting, you feel nervous back stage but run on stage anyway and throw caution to the wind. You have a choice between doing the show that you feel safe in and the show that you're not sure about but excites you, you do the latter show, or both. You do the shows and things you love. You see someone do an amazing scene and rather than feel jealous you walk up to them and tell them how much you loved it. You get a room with some people you've just met in a workshop and attempt to create something beautiful with them. You put on a show in a small room above a pub in your hometown to friends and family using games you've only read about in a book and play them your own way. You go to the South Bank and do something on the streets just because. You jump in with emotion or movement so you haven't got time to think. You make it your job to support everything that gets said right from the start. You bring biscuits to a room of improvisers that weren't expecting them. The audience gives a suggestion, nobody goes on stage, the lights shine brightly, you don't have any idea what to do, but go on stage anyway. You feel so connected to your team that it's like time slows down. You're not sure what you're doing, you're going through an improv slump, you turn up anyway and get on stage and have fun anyway. You're back stage and one of your cast looks nervous, you give them a hug and make them smile. You're in story, someone says something that you don't understand, you back them up and support the hell out of everything.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:

Thursday, 14 May 2015

List of drop in workshops and other places to practice improv regularly.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

I get asked pretty often about drop-in workshops and other places to practice improv regularly, so I thought I'd put our recommendations together into a blog. If you can't commit to a longer course, the classic drop-in workshop is a good flexible alternative.

These tend to be for people who have already done some improv but want to practice on a flexible basis. 

Here our recommendations, totally biased with our first two choices obviously!

Hoopla Things

Hoopla Mondays: These are the closest we have to a drop-in, it usually books up about a week in advance. Different theme each Monday, 7pm at Theatre Delicatessen in Farringdon. Tends to people with a bit of experience, who've just started impro the last year or so and want to get some practice in.

Hoopla Saturdays: Similar to our Monday workshops but lasting the whole day. Also usually books up about a week in advance, gets all levels of experience coming along.

Other Ones we Recommend

The Maydays: They do a weekly Thursday drop-in in Brighton (where I first learnt impro) and also a weekly Saturday in London which I've also heard is excellent. 

The Nursery: Lots of regular workshops including drop ins.

Shoot from The Hip: Run a weekly impro drop in, they are an excellent show so great to learn from.

Do Not Adjust Your Stage: They've also started running a regular drop-in workshop, also great performers so good people to practice with. 

C3Something: They are running loads of workshops now including regular drop-ins and also international guests.

The Actors' Centre: They run some great impro sessions that are usually bookable on the day.

We Want Information: weekly impro drop in.

The Cockpit Theatre: They run Meisner Technique drop-ins.

The Actor's Temple: Also run Meisner Technique drop-ins. 

Foreign Affairs: Also run Meisner Technique drop-ins.

Duck Duck Goose: A show/jam rather than a workshop but is becoming one of the most popular places is London for new improvisers to build up experience.

The Crunchy Frog Collective: Nice website that lists loads of improv happening around the UK.

There are loads of other improv courses and classes in London but I think that's the main drop-in style ones around at the moment, let me know if I've missed anything please I'll be happy to add them on. 

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The differences in your impro group make it interesting

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:

Different people playing together with different styles and behaviours is what makes impro interesting and surprising to me at the moment.

Some people pick up on verbal offers, some emotional offers, some physical offers. Some people play games, some like stories, some like relationships. Some like impro as one big character exercise. Some like quiet, some loud, some quick, some slow.

The simplicity of agreement and support in impro is what can hold this collection of different people together as one.

Different performers have different strengths, and together this can create a strong show. I enjoy watching this in Austentatious. In any moment one of them will be establishing who what where, one will be playing a nice physical environment, one will be playing a strong real character, and another will be being a big fun clowny character, and another will have an eye on the story. It looks seemless to the audience because they work together so well, and it's the differences in the team that enable them to create a greater whole.

Sometimes when a team strives to find one overall style or type of player they accidentally end up missing the variety of performers, and also the performers stop surprising each other on stage. 

I quite like having no idea what someone is going to do. Because of this I've been having a lot of fun improvising in various jams recently (The Playground, Yes Ampersand, Music Box). It's thrilling to go up on stage with someone you don't even know and improvise from scratch. It's vunerable too, you suddenly have no format or shared knowledge or previous pattern of behaviour, and the simplicity of impro is all you have. I love it. 

People who have recently started impro get up on stage from the audience and improvise something from nothing. That's beautiful. 

So long live the jams! Long live the variety! And long live the unexpected!

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

Monday, 20 April 2015

Chat with Chris Mead about long-form.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

I was chatting to Chris when we were planning the courses recently and the future of long-form in London popped up:

In a nutshell, what is long-form improv to you?

CHRIS: To me long-form is anything that isn't directed during the show. Anything where you don't have someone on stage telling the audience what the game is supposed to be. It's the Wild West. Anything can happen. Short form games are brilliant and silly and wonderful but long-form is where you stay in Wonderland and see just how deep the improv rabbit hole goes (to approbate the words of Morpheus).

STEVE: The more I do improv the more I realise it can be anything you want to be. It could be a bunch of improvised scenes that may or may not connect together for various reasons, or one big scene. Some people seem use the term long-form to mean a bunch of scenes connecting together in patterns, while others use it to mean one long story. Improvised plays, movies, Harolds, Deconstructions, Cat's Cradle, musicals, there's loads of variety in long-form.

What inspires you most about long-form?

CHRIS: It's the Wild West. That means you get to be a cowboy. More than that - you get to be a cowboy who has had ninja training on a pirate ship run by robots. Long-form is about pure creation as a collective activity. It's sport for everyone who never got picked for the team during high school. But it's also for everyone who did get picked too. At its best it combines elements of the circus, the theatre, the playground, the sports hall and the inside of your head.

STEVE: The joyous freedom and excitement of creating something from nothing, complete freedom of expression. I like the feeling of "I'm not sure if this is going to work or not" but then doing it anyway and pulling something out of the hat, for performing and watching.

What teachers/shows/companies/experiences inspired you and your long-form?

CHRIS: Unquestionably Baby Wants Candy, a long-form musical improv troupe from Chicago (although they have teams in LA and New York now). Their shows are the most joyful, spontaneous, incredible things I've ever seen on stage. They are constantly making each other laugh - they are playful in such an unforced and natural way. They are taking the conceits of musicals and using them to create belly laughs. In the same mold - the Improvised Shakespeare Company are phenomenal - not because of a slavish adherence to the language or plots of the time but because they use those tropes to create utterly perfect improv sets. Give me joy over accuracy any day. I also have to mention the improv duo Dummy - their show is the perfect balance between deep character connection and your ribs bursting out of your chest because you're laughing so hard.

STEVE: It was two improvised musicals at Edinburgh in 2008, One Night Stand and Showstoppers, and also The Mischief (then known as The Scat Pack) with Lights Cameras Improvise. Before that I already loved impro but those three shows really demonstrated to me that impro could be successful to a wider audience, with great production values, and great stories. I loved the way the story unfolded moment by moment, it felt like the actors were on a tightrope. More recently I've also enjoyed watching PGraph do improvised plays, I think they are great. 

What do you think could be the future of long-form in London?

CHRIS: I don't know what it's going to be like. I do know that it's going to be super exciting and it's going to change the face of comedy in London. The thing is, we know improv can sustain a community, we can see it in Chicago and LA and New York and Austin and Melbourne and Toronto and Copenhagen where there are theatres dedicated to purely improv. In Chicago there are loads of them, pages of listings for different improv gigs all over town. London can absolutely do that. It's an amazing place and there are so many talented performers here. With the new late night tube lines and with all the amazing improv springing up across this fair capital of ours - it won't be long until the future's here. I know I've conflated long-form with 'all improv' in that answer but I've written it now so I'm not going to answer it again. No regrets. We're going to see a proliferation of long-form - narrative long-form - plays and genre pieces etc & non-narrative long-form - everything from Harolds to Decons to crazy made up forms that revolve around what's on your iPhone playlists.

STEVE: Variety. I think London is in a great position as we're influenced by so many different people and companies. We have short-form games, Keith Johnstone inspired narrative, Showstoppers hugely professional improvised musical, UCB and IO with Chicago and New York style long-form, Pgraph from Texas inspiring improvised plays and genres, and a strong connection to physical theatre and clown in Europe. I think the future of long-form in London could be a melting pot of styles, where nights and festivals showcase lots of different styles. I think this will free improvisers up to be experimental and try out new ideas and forms and create shows that they and the audience love. 

Because of this Hoopla are going to be running a more open long-form course, and then after that shorter courses and one off classes on all the different formats. So improvised plays, Harolds, Deconstructions, Tag Flurries, movies, musicals, I think there is room for everything in London and the more the variety the better, and we're going to be aiming to inspire this as much as possible.

What (if anything) is holding back long-form in the UK and how can we solve that?

STEVE: I'm a big fan of making shows audience friendly, especially for people who have never seen improv before and don't know what it is. For instance one thing that would help is before a long-show starts having the host briefly explain what edits and tag-outs are. I've had groups look at me like I'm mad when I've asked them to do this, but the geniune audience of non-improvisers often find the act of someone running across the front of the stage kind of weird. It is weird if you think about it, plays don't end scenes like that. It's just one example, but in general thinking of what your show is from point of view of someone who has never seen improv before would help lots. Geniune audience members really don't care whether it's the second beat of the third scene or whatever, they don't see that stuff. They do see whether the actors are scared and hesitant or happy and spontaneous, so I feel that the spirit of impro and group dynamic is often more important than the technique.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own long-form improv group?

CHRIS: Get a coach. Get an outside eye. They don't have to be better than you, they just need to not be one of the performers in your group. That gives the coach the opportunity to have OPINIONS. They can give notes without it ever looking like it's coming from a place of jealously or insecurity. Conversely, do not ever give notes to a fellow performer who hasn't asked for your notes. Even if they do ask be careful - they are probably just asking for praise. So yeah - get a coach, get drunk, fall in love, have adventures.

STEVE: The best way to learn is practice at least once a week with everyone there, with a coach or director who isn't actually in the show, and perform at least once a month. Commit to a string of performances so you get to learn from each one. Treat shows like a party, a celebration of improv. 

At Hoopla now we're trying to acknowledge these differences and show all the types of long-form there are. We're trying to introduce a range of skills to people that will help with any show, and inspire them to go on and create their own forms and keep experimenting.

Hoopla are about to release their next season of long-form improv courses in London, with  Maria Peters, Katy Schutte, Chris Mead and Jon Monkhouse teaching long-form. Steve is also going to be teaching a narrative long-form course in 2016, all about improvising longer stories and plays.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:

Sunday, 1 March 2015

12 Extra things that can help you be a successful improv performer in the long-term

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email:

1. Give yourself one thing to play with per show.

In an improv workshop you have a coach giving you exercises to do and things to focus on. When you start performing it's good to start giving yourself your own thing to play with per show, don't wait for someone else to tell you, take the responsibility for yourself.

This might be things like 'yes and', 'treat it like it's real', 'react and add', 'play with character', 'build a physical envionment', 'be emotional'. But just bring one conscious thing per show though, too many and it's confusing. One conscious thing helps remove fear and distracts our ego so our subconscious can take over and do the fun creative stuff!

2. Turn up on time

Don't turn up late for a rehearsal or show holding a coffee you bought on the way there. It's very disrespectful to the rest of the cast and means the team can't warm up together and form a group mind.

3. Treat each show as a learning experience

The first two improv shows I ever did went really well. The third one however was so awful that half the audience left in the interval! After the show I was so upset I went and hid under a table in the green room rather than have to be in the pub downstairs facing friends who had come to see.

I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote a list of everything that was awful about the show. Luckily I didn't throw the list away because over the following weekend I wrote the opposite thing against each entry on the list, what the positive version of the show would have been. Then next to each of those I wrote an exercise that would help us learn how to do that. That list of exercises became our syllabus for our next two months of rehearsals, which later became our syllabus for when we started running our own improv workshops. 

So there you go, my most painful and humiliating improv experience also turned out to be my biggest learning experience.

4. Perform 1000 shows

I got this from one of Keith Johnstone's books. Rather than telling yourself you are going to perform one improv show and see how it goes, tell yourself you are going to perform 1000 improv shows no matter what. This takes the pressure of show number three, and show number 23, and means each show is part of an ongoing learning experience.

5. Keep going

I was talking to Nick Oram from Do Not Adjust Your Stage recently about this. They've become an incredibly popular group, they are one of our regular monthly house teams with a large loyal audience and have also been picked up by various international festivals and also been performing sold out shows at The National History Museum. 

I asked them what their secret of their improv success was and he said they've just been going non-stop for a long time. There were loads of other groups around when they started out but Do Not Adjust Your Stage have just kept it going. He even said there were some points when the cast were thinking of going their separate ways, but they never really got round to splitting up!

Constant on the job experience is amazing. Yes there are things you can learn from books and workshops, but really just by getting up and doing it regularly you'll learn without really thinking about it. 

Also by doing it for so long there is now something uniquely Do Not Adjust Your Stage about them. 

6. Read non-impro books too

Impro books are helpful but there are also various general creativity books that can help keep you motivated. I've recently enjoyed reading The Artist's Way and The War of Art. 

7. Do acting classes 

Impro workshops aren't the be all and end all. Acting classes can train voice, movement, stage craft, emotion and presence that can make impro more professional. In London there are some good classes at City Lit, The Cockpit Theatre, Act Up and also the big drama schools like RADA and LAMDA if you really want to go for it.

8. Don't worry what everyone else is up to

The impro scene isn't a competition. It's perfectly possible that everyone can have a good time, and everyone can perform in shows they enjoy performing in. Love and joy isn't a limited resource. 

We probably end up comparing ourselves to each other in some kind of league table because that's what basically happened at school for the first 18 years or our lives. Sometimes I think our jobs as performers and artists is to break down that fake barrier between people, so we should really try to break it down between ourselves first.

If you feel yourself perceiving barriers within the improv scene then book a space and invite groups along you don't usually work with. Get off facebook and talk to the real humans, and the barriers aren't there any more.

9. Keep focusing on the basics

If you are working on a show format you should still spend about half your time focusing on impro basics, even if you think you've got them. This could include things like Listening, Yes And, Commitment, Character, Who What Where, Emotions. Make a list of what you think the basics of improv are, and make yourself do them on a regular basis. 

10. Do your own warm up 

If you're at a show or jam where there isn't an organised warm up you can still take the time and responsibility to warm up yourself. Find something that works for you, maybe some stretches in a park around the corner, some solo objects from a box, anything that gets you present.

11. It's a whole new show each time

Just because the last impro show you were in went amazingly well it unfortunately doesn't mean anything for the show you are about to do. So start from scratch each time, each show is a whole new beginning and each audience is a whole new audience. Sometimes we remember the hilarious scene that we were in the week before, but forget that the foundation of that scene was actually a very real platform of who/what/where that wasn't funny. So don't go on stage looking for immediate laughs, but welcome it in when it happens.

12. Pursue what's fun

You can put on whatever you want to. Put on what you find fun. Put on what your friends and family find fun (your first audience). Don't treat it as something to get right. Treat it as a regular party that you get to host for your friends and share some good times.

Just added this bit: Eat healthy and exercise! The impoverished artist is an unhelpful stereotype, you are more fun to watch when you feel healthy, so look after yourself!

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Things I learnt from the UCB 101 week

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

I was lucky enough to do the UCB 101 course in London this week. Many thanks to Shem and Carleen and everyone else from C3? who made it happen. It must have been a lot of work, so thank you!

This is about my own personal experience, rather than a list of all the exercises.

I had Anthony Atamanuik as a teacher, who was excellent. I was in fact slightly star struck as I've watched his Death by Roo Roo video ( so many times I think half the view count is from me. Last year I felt like a 1950s wannabe musician learning about rock n roll by listening to beat up old records smuggled in from America and then played on pirate radio, except the records were Death by Roo Roo videos.

I didn't think I'd like having a strict syllabus in a course but actually I quite enjoyed it, as Anthony still had a personal take on it and we had enough time to get his own experience. So I thought it worked out as a nice balance.

So here's the main things I got from the workshop and want to keep forever:

Be true
Be honest
Be real
Use your own life experiences
Use your own thoughts and points of view
Do and say what you would actually do and say if you were in that situation
Be a real person on stage
Be yourself

All of this is summed up by the phrase "play at the top of your intelligence".

Time and time again Anthony would point times when a character wouldn't behave like that in real life. We sometimes go into invention or thinking things up, whereas it's actually easiest and best just to see people be real on stage.

The best way to improvise is also the easiest to improvise.

Have basic agreement with the reality presented, say yes to what comes along, just respond as if it's real.  

If we treat everything on stage as if it is real, a lot of great improv then happens really naturally, as you don't have to think anything up.  

I have a habit of overdoing characters. It might be from years of performing impro in crowded noisy pubs, competing for attention with noisy kitchens next door. I've also down lots of Clowning which often amps up characters to BIG. But the course made me realise that just knowing that you are character, without feeling the need to over show it, is often enough. 

My favourite exercise was also the most simple - The Park Bench of Truth. Two people sit on a park bench in front of the audience, as themselves, and talk honestly about whatever comes up, their own point of view and their own life experiences. As Anthony said, "a conversation, you remember those?" 

I played it with Sacha and we had a lovely conversation about tooth ache, ageing, life, death, fears of hospitals, young vs old. I felt very connected to him, so much so that when break came we didn't move and just carried on playing the game without an audience. 

UCB here seems known for one main thing (Game of the Scene, and more technique) but actually whenever I've done anything with them I've been really impressed that most of the course is more about being real to the scene, treating what's on stage as if it's real, behaving realistically as you would in that situation, and using our own life experiences and points of view. The Game of the Scene is fun, but more important is the reality of the scene and the relationships in the first place.

I also found weirdly enough strong connections between UCB and Keith Johnstone, which are often seen as opposites. When UCB teachers talk about playing at the top of your intelligence, and being real and true, I think that's what Keith Johnstone is also getting at when he says be obvious, be boring, don't try to be funny. Being obvious and playing within the circle of expectation (another Keith Johnstone term) actually feels the same as playing at the top of your intelligence. Also the circle of expectation feels like a similar thing to UCB's "if this is true what else is true". So there you go, all improv and impro are friends after all!

Overall both schools of thought want real humans on stage rather than robots pretending to be humans. 

This also made me realise a big lovely thing that impro does. We all walk around life with thoughts, feelings and opinions in our head that we sometimes feel like we can't let out. Impro gives us permission to let this all out, be fully human, and be strongly connected to each other and the audience. That's got to be a good thing right?

In a world where technology puts up a lot of barriers, going right back to two people in eye contact sharing what's in their heads right here and now is a very beautiful thing.

As Anthony said, have a conversation.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: