Sunday, 24 December 2017

Hoopla Big Christmas Thanks!

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

Hi everyone. This is my big Christmas thank you blog! I've been trying to write it all week and have procrastinated and procrastinated and now it is midnight on Christmas Eve and I have to write it now after watching It's A Wonderful Life for the first time ever!

About 11 years ago it was easy to thank everyone in Hoopla. They were all in the Bedford in Balham every Thursday night, and there were about 11 of them. Back then it felt like it was even possible to know the entire London improv scene. There were about 5 people performing at The Wheatsheaf, 5 at The Bedford, 5 at The Bell, and some professionals at the Comedy Store, and about 5 audience members to share between us. 

Now improv is massive and Hoopla survives due to the work and play of 100s of people. So many people make an improv company work so thank you so much everyone! I know I'm in danger of turning it into a sentimental American movie but it's Christmas and i've just got to! 

Thank you so much everyone at The Miller - James Pain, Jen, Charles Ross, Jess, Luke, Ollie and all the staff. They are so supportive of improv it is off the improv scale and they do so much for us and are amazing in every way. Jen even protected an entire pub from a terrorist attack this year. 

Thank you to all of our teachers you are all amazing and I love working with you so much and I just want to bring improv fun to as many people as possible in the most fun way possible and you do that. 

Thank you to all the show groups, performers, directors, coaches, cabaret acts, stand ups, hosts, tech improvisers, musicians and more. Every time I sit and watch I'm blown away by the things that are happening now with improv, there are so many brave new directions and a spirit right now that anything is possible. It's electric. 

Thank you everyone on our corporate team for parachuting into companies and delivering improv joy, people at work are just improvisers in disguise! And thank you Max for turning it into a professional team.

Thank you to all of lovely audience. I love being there each Saturday and seeing familiar faces. Thank you for taking a punt on improv in the first place and coming back, and thank you for your enthusiasm and allowing us to put on great things!

Thank you to everyone who has done a course or workshop with us this year and all years. When I first did improv I turned up half an hour early so I could lock myself in the toilet and say "you can do this" over and over again, so I admire and respect anyone for stepping on stage for the first time. If an asteroid was hitting Earth in November I would probably still teach courses September - October.

MEGA THANKS for all of our front of house, hosting, photography and tech volunteers this year. This has made a colossal difference to us and allowed us to go from two shows a week to full-time next year. I mean it, without you there wouldn't be as many shows. Helping out at someone else's show makes the biggest difference to improv scene.  

Thank you to all of our workshop venues we use at The Nursery, Theatre Delicatessen and more, you are all so professional and friendly and easy to work with and I don't know how you do it but thank you! 

Thank you to everyone involved in all of our filming and recording, even the first one had a cast of 1000s and we hope to put on more Ben Hur epics next year! 

Thanks to EVERYONE involved in the Hoopla Improv Marathon which was the most bonkers weekend of my life and I think I will remember for ever. For me that is what Hoopla is all about - it was gloriously chaotic and yet from that rose moments of great beauty where everyone felt totally connected. 

EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS to Angela Pollard who has joined our team and my only regret is not hiring her 11 years ago as you have made such a difference and I can't wait for the all the exciting things we will work on next year. 

Thank you all FRIENDS especially Edgar and Jason for being there and letting me talk endlessly about Hoopla and nothing else. 

And THANK YOU my lovely wife George for being so patient and kind and lovely and for being Hoopla's unofficial creative consultant and helping me understand my own mind better than I can myself. 

And thank you to everyone else involved in Hoopla!!!

I don't mind saying that Hoopla is a lot of hard work sometimes, I'm often totally out of my depth and I there have been times over the years where I have felt like giving up. But always at the moment there is something that happens that makes me leap up and down and shout "THAT'S IT! THAT'S WHY WE DO THIS!!!!!!". It might be a Project 2 show where Fred Deakin seamlessly integrates a soundscape into an awesome scene and every single person in the audience is captivated, or Richard Soames making every person in the audience be a dinosaur. Or it's in a workshop where a beginners course turn up on week 7 and THEY ARE JUST AWESOME, or week 1 of a course and someone makes an observation about an exercises that is better than any improv book written ever. Sometimes it is even Angela and me having a chat that "submitting press listings is boring" and then falling about laughing because before that we always did that by ourselves and thought we were the only ones to feel that way. 

Every single day something happens to make me love improv again. 

Today I was watching It's A Wonderful Life and found myself admiring the community they have in that film, where everyone knows each other and lives near each other. Then I realised we have that in improv. We might all live in different towns, have different jobs, work in different places, but there is something about improv that brings people together and crosses those divides. 

What I enjoy most about improv is stepping into the unknown. We had Adam Meggido from Showstoppers in as a guest teacher just before Christmas and it was great to get back to the thrill of just stepping out of the audience, stepping on stage, connecting to your scene partner, and stepping into the unknown together. That's the first thing I loved about improv, and it seems somehow endless. 

So next year we're stepping into the unknown again. I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen, but I'm really excited about it, and thank you everyone for being part of it. 


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

Image result for it's a wonderful life

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Many thanks from us to everyone involed in the Hoopla Improv Marathon!

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK. 
Wow that was quite a weekend!!!

Many thanks to everyone involved in watching, working, volunteering, performing, watching, dancing, glow stick waving and more! 

The weekend was made up of a team of 100s of people so I can't name check everyone but I want to let everyone know that it meant a huge amount to me and everyone in Hoopla and we really appreciate everyone getting involved to such an amazing extent.

I only just woke up recently so haven't checked in with The Miller about how much was raised for charity (Team Margot), but I should know soon and I think it probably smashed all our expectations. 

Here's some extra special thanks for people!

Georgina Roe - thank you for being such an amazing person and looking after me through the festival! 

Audience - It was amazing having people watching a show at odd times like 3am on a Friday and Saturday night, and then an epic busy 10am show on Saturday and Sunday! Thank you so much for coming out at weird times and giving us a go. It far exceeded all our expectations so thank you!

Roxanne - A very special member of the audience who made it to every single show over the entire weekend! She started to hallucinate late night Saturday and felt it was all part of the experience. We salute you!

Charles Ross - The owner of The Miller, thank you so much for letting us put on our crazy things and taking a chance on this. 

James Pain - Also from The Miller, you did an amazing job thank you so much for sorting out everything with council, staffing, acts, me, press, promoting and more. You're an awesome bloke!

Jen, Jess, Ross, Ollie, Luke and everyone at The Miller - Thank you so much for everything this weekend and always. Working through the night, looking after us during terrorist attacks, you are amazing people and having a drink with you all at 4am was one of my favourite bits of the weekend. 

Angela Pollard - Thank you for bringing me chocolate at the best time moments ever and thank you for everything you do with our shows, press, promoting and more. In August it was just an idea on a flip chart paper in a dusty office, and it's happened!

Myrian Panayi - Thank you so much for doing front of house for a million and two hours and for being so patient and calm and for looking after me when I was tired! 

Emily Brazee - Thank you for doing the best and most organised press job ever, you are amazing!

Tim Grewcock - Thank for sorting out our late night shows and inspiring the marathon in the first place with your tales of New York. You have great taste and you were totally right, Spring Watch at 3am is what the crowd needs. 

Phil Lunn - Thank you for playing for so many people and for bringing such amazing shows. 

Liam Brennan - Thank you for being in the most shows ever over the weekend and for being my on the floor of a pub sleeping buddy.  

Rob T and Clusterf**k - Thank you for bring such a great variety of acts! 

ACTS AND GROUPS - Thanks for wanting to do it in the first place! I wasn't even sure if people would want to perform at 3am in the morning, but your enthusiasm was amazing and you brought the most exciting improv I have ever seen. Thanks for doing such a great job and for being so fun to work with. 

Method Acting Award for staying in character off-stage: The Bareback Kings.
Staying in role as South London geezers so much that I even thought Rebecca Schuster hadn't been there all weekend until I realised I'd been talking to her geezer character instead.

The Mega Face Award for late night fun: Hot Morris.
Providing improvised Morris dancing to the masses! Morris Dancing is BACK in the cool books of the UK. 

The Spirit of Hoopla award: Kathy and Unai in the morning. 
When I first announced the marathon I thought NOBODY would want the 8am slots on Saturday or Sunday morning. Instead Kathy and Unai immediately emailled and said they wanted BOTH of them for an early morning breakfast show, which they then run both days even after being there late night before, and even put on cream teas. They were upbeat and cheerful just when the weekend needed it!

The Merchandise award: Kathy and Unai in the morning. 
I've never seen a one off show with it's own mugs, badges, signs, fan club and more before, but I like it!

The Higher State of Consciousness Award: Dave Waller.
At 5am Dave played whale music mixed with hip hop while Tim Grewcock run a guided meditation through a loudspeaker while we played with lights and sound to an audience of three people including the manager of the Miller. Thank you Dave!

The Community Spirit Award: Phil Lunn's Hoopla Village Hall Choral Society.
20 people up on stage, together for the first time, at 11:30am on a Saturday morning improvising together as a choir. Very beautiful moment thank you Phil!

The Roof Raiser Award: The Dreaming. 
This is a really incredible show. Two people (Alex Fradera and John Agaiou) with the most big and physical improv show I have ever seen. Incredibly funny and gripping and PASSIONATE!

The Audience Participation Award: Improvised Crystal Maze.
This HAS to happen again! Audience members complete crystal maze puzzles improvised out of thin air.

The Innovation Award: Dark Matters.
This was one of my favourite moments of the festival, put together by people who I think have only been doing improv with us for a year or so. An improvised shadow puppet show. It was their first time putting it on, and only 10 minutes, and yet it was the most professional and well executed show I have seen in ages. Put together with a real love and care that translated into the cast members who had a sense of care and playfulness and love for each other that inspired one audience member at the end of the festival to say that it summed up how to do improv: "love each other even when in shadows". 

The International Award: Kevin Miller with History Under the Influence.
This was an incredible show. Kevin (from Hideout Theatre Texas) put together a cast of people he had only just met and put together an incredibly fun narrative show. 

The National Rail Award for furthest traveled: Direct Theatre. Next time I see you I will hopefully have slept enough to have a personality and social skills and be able to say hello properly! Thank you for coming and weaving your fish and chip shop magic! 

Legends of Improv Award: Stephen Frost, Steve Steen, Alan Marriott, Phil Whelans, Dylan Emery and Suki Webster: You all inspired me when I was first starting in improv, with teaching, shows, Comedy Store Players, Whose Line and more. Seeing you perform at Hoopla was an honour and a pleasure thank you! 

Our regular groups and teachers: Thank you so much I'm so lucky to have you in my life and Hoopla you are so great and lovely to work with thank you so much! You hold this altogether so thanks for sticking with us!

We've asked The Miller if we can do it again next year, probably late September, fingers crossed!

Love each other even when in shadows. 

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

Saturday, 30 September 2017

How to practice improv when not in rehearsal or show.

Today's shortish blog from an improviser:

"I'd LOVE to read about improv exercises/games/warm ups you can do on your own, without a partner or a team…"

My favourite one to do is from Meisner Technique training. The next time someone says to you "how are you?" in real life, no matter when or where, take a moment to think about it and then answer honestly. It practices emotional honesty in the present moment. Yes, some people will think you're odd, but you'll also be surprised at how quickly it also breaks barriers in a nice way.

Other things to practice on own when not in rehearsal:

- Every time you pick up an object in real life, immediately after pick up the mimed version of the object with the same movements and imagine the same weight. It helps to notice how actions work in real life so we can make our object work more believeable. Don't pick up real guns though, keep them mimed please.

- Send 5 improvisers a message about why you like watching them or improvising them. It keeps you in the mindset of supporting others rather than worrying about how you are doing.

- Start your day by writing 3 pages of freehand notes about anything, the first thing that comes to you, without worrying about it or editing it. Show nobody. This is called Morning Pages and is from the book The Artist's Way and is a good way of opening up ideas and coming into touch with your thoughts and feelings.

- Go for a run and eat healthily, it means you turn up to shows energised and happy rather than starting every warm up with "guys I'm really tired".

- In general conversations and meetings practice relaxed open body language, relieving tension from yourself which helps the other people to relieve tension.

- Give someone you don't know all that well a small present.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Anxiety about not being quick or funny enough when improvising.

A friend of mine is suffering anxiety about not being quick or funny enough when improvising.

This can be a vicious cycle for performers that gets worse and worse, until they end up doing less and less shows or quitting improv all together. 

What doesn't help in this situation is "trying". Trying to be quick or funny can often lead to the opposite happening. When we are trying too hard to be funny no idea seems good enough, as we are measuring ourselves against an impossible benchmark, and before we know it out internal editor blocks all of these ideas which again results in perceived "slowness" and being unfunny. Then the cycle continues, and we again go on stage with the delusion that we are not quick or funny and again try too hard and reject all of our ideas resulting in feeling stuck and stale. 

So we need to snap out of this cycle. 

The best way to do this is counter intuitive, and it is weirdly to not try to be funny or quick and instead just be average, normal and even slow. 

When we give ourselves permission to be average we can relax and actually react like normal humans in the situation, instead of trying to speed write in our minds at the expense of emotions. 

When we give ourselves permission to be average we release what is uniquely us, instead of trying too hard to become an external image of what we regard as 'good' or 'creative'.
The only you is you. And the average you is interesting to others, as they are not you but like to see your own take on the world. 

The purpose of many improv exercises is to allow you to be your full self on stage without apology, rather than doing an impression of other performers or striving for external perfection. 

The aim is still to put on an awesome exciting show for the audience. But it is real humans on stage without fear that gives people this. And it is the Jedi mind trick of "being average" that helps performers to get out of the anxiety loop and live without fear on stage. 

These views originally come from Keith Johnstone, Viola Spolin and places like io theatre and we now teach exercises to help with this on our courses in London with Hoopla Impro, and we're going to be posting loads more resources about things that help actors improvise without fear on our facebook page Hoopla Impro. If you can't make a course, no problem, we're still happy to help improvisers any way we can so please get in touch.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Why is the Hoopla Improv Marathon the same week as Slapdash Improv Festival?

Why is the Hoopla Improv Marathon the same week as Slapdash Improv Festival?

Someone just asked, as they were concerned we had deliberately put it on at the same time as an act of competition which goes against the lovely relationship Hoopla and The Nursery have. I was originally just going to chat to them but in case anybody else was concerned here's the story.

Why is the Hoopla Improv Marathon the same week as Slapdash Improv Festival?

The short answer is due to a mistake in choosing dates, by me, that was too late to go back on. 

This August we were booking in all of our Autumn shows when we had the idea of running a Del Close style improv marathon. We then floated the idea to The Miller where we host our shows, and their manager and owner were surprisingly up for it. They then looked into licensing laws with the council and were able to get 20th - 22nd October approved for late opening on that weekend early. 

At the time I thought Slapdash was in Spring for some reason, maybe it had been Spring once before I'm not sure, but I honestly didn't realise that it was the same week. We knew we weren't clashing with The Nursery re-opening but didn't think to check about Slapdash as I really thought it was months away. 

The first we realised about it was later when I bumped into Jules at The Nursery and we realised the dates were the same. By that point though the late opening had been approved by the council, The Miller were already committed and had already arranged late night through the night bar staff and security.

So it was too late to change, which I am sorry about as we should have changed. 

However running up to the week we will also be promoting Slapdash, as we have done every year, and the aim of our event is not to undercut the other in anyway. 

In fact during our Marathon weekend the main shows (8pm - 10pm) are the same as they would have been otherwise, so no change there, the only change is that we're also running shows much later for that weekend only. 

Also the capacity of our venue is only 75 afterall so we're not talking about a huge amount of people, and in other years both Hoopla and Nursery/Slapdash have been full on the same night no problem.

We have a lovely history with The Nursery. Many of our teachers also teach with The Nursery, all of our performers and groups also perform there and a huge amount of our courses are based there, so we don't want to do anything to upset this relationship.

Over the years we've always tried to avoid clashing with other improv companies over major events where possible, but I made a mistake this time.

Hoopla has a big team of teachers and performers, but in terms of the actual show bookings and coordinating dates this is just me and Angela part-time, so we do have to work quickly and make quick decisions as we just don't have the manpower currently to do anything else, so this time we missed the dates. 

We're trying to put on as many improv shows as possible for as many improv groups as possible. Last week alone we hosted around 20 groups I think. To manage that amount of people and groups week in week out ongoing is really hard work, and I'm afraid we do make mistakes sometimes. 

So I'm sorry if the clash of dates was seen as unnecessary conflict  but as you can hopefully see this really wasn't my intention and I do genuinely try to work with companies as much as possible rather than clash.


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

Hope that helps!

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.

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 Beginners Improv Courses start every month in London: Beginners Improv Courses.

If you've done a Beginners Course our best next step is our Performance Improv Course: Performance Improv Course.


Twitter: @HooplaImpro
Facebook: /HooplaImpro

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.


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"
"Thank Captain Zarg, it's wonderful that humans and aliens can finally meet"
"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 ( and also have a list of videos at

Hoopla's Beginners Improv Courses start every month in London: Beginners Improv Courses.

If you've done a Beginners Course our best next step is our Performance Improv Course: Performance Improv Course.

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

Facebook: /HooplaImpro

* 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

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, ) 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