Monday, 7 August 2017

Some quick helpful tips on hosting an improv night.

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK. 

Someone just asked me about hosting an improv night and if I had any tips, I thought the following might be helpful

Being yourself, but what self?

Sometimes good hosting is as simple as being yourself. But which self? We are lots of different people so sometimes it's best to pick one that works for you. Here's some options:

- You with your family chatting to the audience like Uncles, Aunts and Cousins.
- You with your friends in a pub being a bit jokey and naughty.
- You at work being formal, assertive and reliable.
- You at a party getting people to dance the conga on a dance floor.
- You in your living room with some friends over getting people drinks and snacks and playing games.

Different angles work for different people. What seems to work best with me is just starting totally normal as myself in the mode of "the audience are in my living room and are my friends and I've got them over to show them some shows that I like" and then I gradually ramp up into "let's get everyone drunk and dancing the conga". If I come on too high energy/try too hard then I just come across as a unlikeable nobhead (two Saturdays ago), but other people can come on break dancing and mexican waving and it seems to work well. 



I think most of all not faking it. Audiences can see when you are lying.

Things to say
There do seem to be certain things to say that help set up an improv night and put the audience in the right frame of mind. Apparently Amy Poehler used to script something similar for the start of UCB shows, and say it even if most people in the audience knew the show already. It's about being clear and not alienating the people new to improv, so they can enjoy it and come back rather than feel they are outcast from an in-joke. Something along the lines of...

Hi everyone welcome to ______!
Everything you are watching tonight is all being improvised and made up on the spot. What you're watching is happening for one night only.

It might be funny, it might be serious, it could be dramatic, sad, exciting, who knows?
It's not stand up and we're not going to be picking on anyone in the front row.
Every now and then the actors might ask for a suggestion to help inspire a new scene or story, so we're going to practice that now.
On the count of 3 shout out your own name, 1 2 3!
One the count of 3 shout out ______ , 1 2 3!





Explaining long-form things


Loads of people don't agree with me on this one, but I've seen lots of long-form shows ruined because the real audience don't understand the concept or technical things. 

Why are people running across the front of the stage?
Why are people tapping people on the shoulder?
Why are people just talking about things by themselves?

These are all questions I've heard audiences ask. 

Recently I saw The Maydays put in a short explanation at the start:

"We're going to say some real life monolgues inspired by suggestion and then improvise some scenes based on what we hear. The monologues are real and honest, the scenes are made up."

This made the audience care about the monologues and listen, rather than thinking they were unfunny stand up. 

Also a quick explanations of edits can be helpful to newcomers:

"If you see someone running across the front of the stage they are cutting to the next scene, jumping through time and space, just like a movie cut".

Again most people seem to not agree with me on this, but I've found it helpful with running a night and I care passionately about the audience new to improv. 


Be efficient
The main job of the improv host is to get the audience in the mood of improv and get the acts on. The audience have come to see the improv not the host, so you don't have to do very long. You're mainly there to keep the night on track and inform.

Thank the audience
At the end thank audience for coming out and for their suggestions and being part of the show.

Audience suggestions
There's a separate blog about getting audinece suggestions at http://hooplaimpro.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/dealing-with-difficult-audience.html


Hope that helps!
Steve


Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK. 


Friday, 28 July 2017

Hoopla Teachers at The Edinburgh Fringe. Edinburgh Fringe Recommendations 2017.

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK. 
There are more Hoopla teachers than ever performing at Edinburgh this summer in a variety of AMAZING shows! We wish them a healthy happy sunny Edinburgh!
If you'd like to check them out here are all the links to their shows:
James Witt: Brexit The Musical.
Susan Harrison and Lauren Shearing: Showstoppers The Improvised Musical.
Chris Mead, Jenny Rowe and Liz Peters: The Maydays Happily Never After.
Sally Hodgkiss: The Committee.
Jinni Lyons and Jonah Fazel: Bumper Blyton Improvised Adventure.













Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK. 
www.hooplaimpro.com

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Hoopla's quick guide to improv for beginners.

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. 
Courses, shows and improv theatre in London, UK.

Hoopla's next Beginners Improv Courses are starting in early June in London: http://www.hooplaimpro.com/london-comedy-improv-courses.html
 

Twitter: @HooplaImpro
Facebook: /HooplaImpro
Website: www.HooplaImpro.com


Here's a super quick guide to improv for people who have just started an improv course or are about to.

Have fun

Improv is for fun. It's playing games, making up scenes and stories, and being other people and playing with each other. Hopefully some of these things below help remove some fears and help you to play on stage and have fun.

Don't worry about making mistakes


You don't get punished for mistakes in improv. There is no report card afterwards or grading system or detentions. Mistakes can often lead to a whole new thing in a story and can become the best bit. 


Your scene partner says you are a Cat Burglar. You don't know what that is so you say "Miaoowww" and steal milk from the fridge. The rest of the show supports you by being The Dog Police who turn up barking in their pedigree chum powered van.

So don't worry about getting it wrong, as a mistake can be a gift.

Play

There is no set way to do improv. Play with games and exercises and find out how to make them fun for you. Improv is a constantly evolving art form so your own sense of play is what makes it special. You can play improv games your own way and discover something new about them, rather than trying too hard to get them "right".

You're not in competition with each other

Your scene partner is in collaboration with you not competition. You're not trying to out wit each other, you're playing together to discover new worlds and characters. It's ok to loose a tug of war on the improv stage, the rope is imaginary after all.

You don't have to be clever, funny or entertaining and you don't have to make up jokes


Trying too hard to be clever or funny can sometimes make people freeze up instead. Doing the opposite and being obvious allows us to relax and be in the present moment and discover things line by line moment by moment.

Put your attention on the other person


If you're freaking out about the audience and feeling self conscious put your attention on the other actor instead. In fact do that even if you're not freaking out. Eye contact, listening, touch, movement with them all help to stay connected to them instead of feeling self-conscious. It also helps to pick up what improvisers call "offers" which you can build on to discover a scene together.

Agree with what your scene partner presents you and add something that explores that moment

For instance if your scene partner starts with:

"Captain, welcome to the ship"

You could respond with:

"Thank you Lieutenant, and a great job you and the men have done with cleaning"
Or
"Thank Captain Zarg, it's wonderful that humans and aliens can finally meet"
Or
"Ahhhh!!! And it be a great vessel for pirating!" *

Or any number of offers.

Each offer agrees with the scene partner and explores the situation. Notice that each line changes the scene in different ways. None of them are right or wrong. We are collaborating together to discover the story moment by moment, line by line. Your scene partner will also agree with what you present, so if you go for spaceship and aliens they will go along with that, and if you go with pirates they will go along with that.

Your characters don't always have to be in agreement, just the improvisers playing the characters. For instance:

"Captain, welcome to the ship"
"I don't feel very welcome"
"Sorry about that, I didn't mean to sound sarcastic"

Also in general we're trying to agree with the underlying reality presented by the improviser, instead of block it (saying no). Here's an example of a block:

"Captain, welcome to the ship"
"I'm not the Captain, and there is no ship"

Although even that is not impossible to get out of, as we treat even mistakes as gifts. It's only improv anyway and you haven't broken any laws and won't go to prison for blocking, so if someone blocks a reality accidentally we can still have fun trying to incorporate it somehow and make the block a gift:

"Captain, welcome to the ship"
"I'm not the Captain, and there is no ship"
"Sorry! I always get you and your identical twin mixed up. Dammit! That means the Captain has stolen it in the dead of night, I knew we shouldn't have trusted him."

Say the first thing that comes to you

Your impulses are great. Trust them and let them out, as long as they are coming from a place of love and support from your scene partner. If something odd blurts out don't worry it's only improv and you're not at work, and we can make it part of the scene.

Watch some improv
 

If you haven't seen improv it's worth watching some while doing a course, it stops it becoming too academic as you can see what improv is on stage. We do live shows every week (http://www.hooplaimpro.com/improv-comedy-club-london-bridge.html) and also have a list of videos at http://www.hooplaimpro.com/improv-videos.html


Hoopla's next Beginners Improv Courses are starting in early June in London: http://www.hooplaimpro.com/london-comedy-improv-courses.html


Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Courses, shows and improv theatre in London, UK.
 
 
Twitter: @HooplaImpro

Facebook: /HooplaImpro
Website: www.HooplaImpro.com



* All improv examples must include at least one reference to pirates.

Monday, 24 April 2017

How I give feedback when teaching improv.

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Courses, shows and improv theatre in London, UK.
Twitter: @HooplaImpro
Facebook: /HooplaImpro
Website: www.HooplaImpro.com


This is about how I give feedback when teaching improv, as a couple of people were asking me about it recently so I thought it might be helpful. This is my own personal style, rather than Hoopla in general, and I'm not saying this is the "right" way of doing it as there are loads of different styles of teaching with advantages to all. This is just what has worked for me.

Much of this is weirdly influenced by swimming coaching. I learnt to swim front crawl properly a couple of years ago and the teacher (Dan Abel with Swim Trek, https://www.swimtrek.com/swimtrek-coaching ) was one of the best teachers of anything I've ever had. For weeks he'd get me just working on one thing in isolation at a time, for instance the tilt of my head as I took a breath, or the extension of my hands into the water. On each length I only had one thing to focus on, and he only gave me feedback on that one thing. We didn't move on until that one thing was mastered. Only after 7 weeks did we put it all together and swim complete strokes again, and I felt like a dolphin. My swimming went from not able to do more than 3 lengths of front crawl to swimming in a full triathlon with a great time, all in the space of a couple of months.

So here's how I personally look at feedback and teaching in improv:

One point of focus

I aim to give students just one point of focus per exercise. So if we're doing game of the scene I will only focus about that and only talk about that. Even if someone is blocking something, or being too quiet on stage, I won't talk about that I'll just talk about game of the scene. 

Then all feedback to that exercise is only in those terms of the point of focus. This is so the group stays focussed on that thing together without distraction, and the new habit can be absorbed and we can move on step by step over the course.

If there are other things going wrong in the scene we can cover those later.

For instance with my swim coach he would spend ages just giving feedback on body alignment in the water, that's the first thing he looked at. Once I had that as a habit then he moved onto head tilt for breathing. But he didn't give feedback on head tilt if the point of focus was body alignment. 

I've found the opposite - giving feedback on everything missing from a scene or wrong with a scene, can be a little overwhelming for students and sometimes results in the feeling in them that no matter what they do they can't get it right. It's impossible to be doing the whole of improv all the time, so there will always be something you are doing well and something you are missing. However there is sometimes space to give multiple focus feedback later in a course, as long as there is later space to later work on things needed moment by moment. 

Make the point of focus clear

I try and make the point of focus clear, each time a different pair get up to do the exercise. The mind can get quite noisy and students sat waiting to get up can start measuring themselves by all manner of unhelpful criteria.

So each time someone new gets up I say "we're doing .... and I want you to focus on just ...."

If someone is confused in class it's sometimes from trying to do all of improv all the time, rather than just focussing on one thing at a time. 

Give feedback on just that one thing

I then try and give honest feedback on just that one thing. If there are other things that need work on we can save them until later. However other things done well should also be celebrated. 

If they've got it, celebrate

If they've achieved the point of the exercise then celebrate it so it beds in and becomes a new habit. I also like to discuss why it went well. I think it's important to talk just as much about what went well as what's missing. We are aiming to do more of the behaviours that lead to fun scenes, so that's what we can learn from. I ask them how it felt, and remind them what they did at the start of the scene.

If we reward supportive collaborative behaviour we get more supportive collaborative behaviour. 

If there's been a great scene don't just say "great scene", celebrate it and learn from it and use it to change the mood of the entire group for the best.

If they haven't got it, go again

If they aren't getting the point of the exercise I try and give one thing helpful, around the point of focus, and then get them to go again until they get it. Sometimes I might decide the whole group goes again, either straight after or another week. I've found the most important bit of improv, responding to what's just been said in the present moment, is worth practicing again and again. 

Don't give negative feedback without an immediate chance to do it again

If I have to point out what someone is missing I then immediately give them a chance to do again working on that missing thing, and then celebrate once they have it. This means the behaviour can be changed there and then. Otherwise a negative note sat on for a week without action can turn into a permanent message of "I can't do this".

The feedback is the exercise

For many of our courses the feedback to the group is the next exercise. I'm watching what the group does, seeing what they do well and also seeing what they are missing. What they are missing I then choose an exercise for to teach that missing thing, either as the next exercise or the next week. This way people gradually improve moment by moment as a result of doing exercises. If they want to know what they are missing as an improviser, it's in the theme of the next exercise.

The exercises we teach aren't random, they are designed for the group to give them what we think we need there and then. 



Make a game of it


I've found many beginners struggle with who what where in scenes. I've found giving negative feedback ("your scene was missing a location") isn't always helpful as sometimes they end up going on stage thinking improv is a checklist of things to get, and also they end up fearing being told what they are doing wrong.

So I've found you can flip this mentality around by making a game of it.  

So two improvisers go on stage and start a scene from scratch. Three members of the audience have a balloon each, one is for where, one for who and one for what. Every time the improvisers on stage do something about where, who or what the corresponding baloon is blown up a bit. When the audience are satisfied they let go of the balloons and they fly around with a farting noise. 

The focus of the improvisers now becomes postive ("let's put in lots of fun stuff about where we are, who we are and what we are doing") rather than negative ("I hope I don't forget one of those things and get in trouble"). 

Closed loop exercises

My favourite exercises I term closed-loop, where the learning point is wrapped up in the exercise so that the only way to complete the exercise is to really emotonally engage with the learning point. 


Issue a postive direction rather than negative

Whenever possible I try to issue a postive direction (what you could do) rather than the negative (what you shouldn't do). 

For instance rather than saying "don't block" I'll try and say "agree with the other person's offer as much as possible". 

The reason for this is that the easiest way to not do something is to do nothing at all. The easiest way to "not block" is to say nothing at all, and too much negative direction and the improviser eventually freezes up.

Positive direction gives people active things they can actually do on stage. They are still receiving feedback just flipped around into the postive.

If you want to remove a behaviour replace it with something else

Similar to above. Sometimes people have unhelpful behaviours in workshops that you do just have to call out, but even then it's important to give them something else they can do instead. If you don't give them the positive behaviour they can do instead they either freeze up or return to old habits.

Multiple practices

I try to minimise the time I'm talking so that students get more time practicing. For each new game I like them to do a practice all at once around the room first, then one on stage, then one working on anything that comes up, then celebrate. 

I do the practice ones around the room without feedback as I like people to learn and get a feel for it themselves first. 

Being succint (even if this blog isn't)
 
I try to be succint with explanations and feedback. Sometimes I employ a fun captain on the course. If I go off on one and talking too much they gradually raise their arm until they are pointing at me and then say Beeeeepp. I then go back into the action.

Make the bread of your shit sandwiches thicker

In business there is a term called a "shit sandwich" which is when giving someone criticism you surround it with two praises, for instance:

"You always dress very well at work. We are slightly concerned about you shouting I hate you all non stop from 2pm to 5pm every day. You are very punctual though"

Understandably shit sandwiches have grown to have a bad reputation at work.

However the bread should be thicker and be ongoing. We should be constantly celebrating what the person is doing well, evertime they are up. Then the occasional bit of negative feedback is no longer painful, as they know you are coming from a supportive and honest place.

Increase what's going well

My main aim when teaching is to constantly celebrate, learn from and increase what's going well. These moments gradually expand and there is no space left in the group for the bad bits. If people are interested in character I'll do loads about character and get enthused about it and you'll find that game of the scene or story will pop up as a fun side effect, we can then talk about those things as they pop up.

Core Skills Practice

The things we practice in week 1 or 2 of a beginners course should be practiced all the time, even with advanced improvisers, as returning to the basics keeps us connected.

Improv is less about rules and more about behaviours
 
Mick Napier writes well about this. 

Sometimes we are told "don't block" as a rule. But people "don't block" when they trust each other on stage, are having fun, and are excited about going into the unknown together. So rather than teach by rules we can instead help people to trust each other on stage, have fun, and be excited about going into the unknown. Blocking is a symptom but there's something much deeper and more fun that we can play with instead.

Most of all for me improv is about feelings rather than the intellect, so quite often I'm aiming for someone to emotionally experience something on stage rather than sit there taking notes. That's the spirit of improv. 


That's enough from me, hope it was helpful! Remember this is just my personal teaching style I'm not saying this is right or wrong.




Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Courses, shows and improv theatre in London, UK.
Twitter: @HooplaImpro
Facebook: /HooplaImpro
Website: www.HooplaImpro.com

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I want to let go.

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Courses, shows and improv theatre in London, UK.
Twitter: @HooplaImpro
Facebook: /HooplaImpro
Website: www.HooplaImpro.com

I like spontaneous improv. I value spontaneity in improv above everything else. I don't care so much about the structure of a show, or format, or how clean or messy it is. I just like seeing people being spontaneous on stage and surprising themselves. I feel like any audience, no matter how new to improv, can see the difference between spontaneous and careful improv.

I was talking to a student about this recently who was struggling with spontaneity on stage, and thought the following conversation might be helpful for other people new to improv. 

For anonymity I'll call the people A and B. I am B, but keep that a secret.
A: "I'm stuck in my head"
B: "How does that feel?"
A: "I just want to be better but I'm not"
B: "How do you personally define better?"
A: "I just want to have fun"
B: "How could you have fun?"
A: "I want to try and let go?"
B: "Try?"
A: "Ha! Yes. "
B: "Well done, you have been trying."
A: "Ok not trying. I have to let go. "
B: "You don't have to let go. You don't have to do any of this. "
A: "Ok. I want to try to let go."
B: "Try?"
A: "I want..."
B: "Do you?"
A: (Bursts out laughing) "I want to let go!"

A seemed much more relaxed in workshops after that.

It reminds me of learning to ski. When booking the holiday at home we have a dream of sliding down the glorious mountains of the Alps. However when we come to our first skiing lesson at the top of the slopes we find that it's actually pretty frightening, and spend most of the time trying not to slide. In fact the first bunch of lessons are all about learning to stop and slow down. 

Eventually though we have to decide that we actually want to slide down the mountain. We want to slide, we want to go fast. Our muscles then relax instead of stress, and our body let's us flow down the mountain at speed. That's when skiing becomes really fun and free. 

To let go in improv you have to actually want to do that. Weirdly that's all you have to do. 

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Courses, shows and improv theatre in London, UK.
Twitter: @HooplaImpro
Facebook: /HooplaImpro
Website: www.HooplaImpro.com