I’ve had a recurring thought for the last six months or so.
This thought isn’t revolutionary or some sort of sudden realisation that has changed my improv world, but it’s a basic thing I’ve forgotten and that I think a lot of improvisers end up forgetting. As MissImp takes the last few enrollments for another beginners improv course, I thought I’d share this thought.
As improvisers we start by learning the basics of scenework. We learn yes… and. We learn about characters, environment and object work. We look at patterns, callbacks and the game of the scene. After that, we often take it as read that these things should happen, and we concentrate more on forms. We chase the next good format or gimmick. Just as shortformers chase the next funny game to play, longformers often chase the next cool format to perform.
In many ways this makes sense. We want new ways of expressing what we do but I think there is a danger of forgetting what’s important when we put too much attention on a form rather than the most crucial part of our work – doing good scenework.
An improviser stands and falls on her or his scenework. So much so that you can have the most technically perfect Harold, for example, but have something really dull. Getting the formatics right isn’t enough. Show me characters and something that means something to them. Show me performers who are listening and responding in the moment. Show me great patterns being played by skilled improvisers. That’s where the magic is and with all the noise there is about formats and other pre-occupations in improv we lose this.
Don’t get me wrong. Formats are useful devices when used by skilled improvisers but unless you are always looking to increase your skill level, getting obsessed with formats is pointless to me. It’s the same for a lot of things that come along as baggage with improv. Warm-ups are great – they put you in a mental and physical state to do what you do, but when you spend more time thinking about them than your scenework, they’re getting in your way. When you spend more time thinking about your seating plan, the audience numbers, the guestlist….they all take up time you could spend thinking about and practicing your scenework.
As a new bunch of improvisers starts their first steps on Monday, I hope those of us who have taken those steps before will continue on our journey as good improvisers by reinvesting in the scenework we do and doing what we can to improve ourselves. I’d rather watch a bunch of scenes with no format but great scenework than an awesome format done with sloppy scenework.
If you are interested in a one day intensive to work on your own scenework, I’m offering one on Sat 1st June. Details here:https://www.facebook.com/events/167694813411646/?ref=2https://www.facebook.com/events/167694813411646/?ref=2
This week’s jam: Testify and Justify
Important venue info: This week we’re at 8 Stoney Street (opposite The Old Angel Pub) at 7.30pm. Despite heating, it can get a little chilly so wrap up warm!
This week’s jam is run by: Lloydie.
This week’s jam we’re going to strip things back to basics.
It’s about grounding and justifying in your scenes.
We love going weird – and weird can be awesome, but until we know what normal is in a scene, it’s really hard for weird to work well for us.
So we are going to do some awesome, simple, funny scenes that build a recognisable reality. When we start introducing something unusual, we will justify it. We will take our audience with us on a comedic journey and we will win all of improv.
Sometimes people mistake “grounded” for “dull”. Don’t. Recognisable and grounded can and should be engaging and we will work on that too.
There will be lots of playtime, and this week there will be a little bit of side-coaching in the first half too.
Thursday 4th April
8 Stoney Street
Entry Price: £2
If you’ve been to the workshops conducted by Heather and Joe from The Maydays or ever seen the group perform you’ll know that, like us, they are into improv in a big way. Also, like us, they often have big name international trainers visit from all around the world to enhance their improv skills. And, like us, they believe in sharing the improv love around.
I’m delighted to announce that Jules Munns from The Maydays is doing an afternoon workshop on Sunday 17th March from 1pm – 5pm, it’s £10 to come along, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. You need to get in touch with me NOW about this so that you’re a part of the workshop. (email me – firstname.lastname@example.org – to let me know you’re coming).
This is a workshop about not dropping your shit, about seeing opportunities and how simple piece by piece addition can make a scene which is complex, original and hilarious without working hard. It’s about making improvisation easy on yourself because the answer is already there. It’s about the beginnings of scenes, and how that can make the whole scene. No sweat.
Jules studied at UCL and the Guildhall school, where he first learnt to improvise, studying with Ken Rea. Since graduating, he has started the Nursery, a festival of new, devised and improvised theatre and Slapdash, London’s only festival of improvisation. He improvises musicals with Music Box and is the producer of Silly String Theory.
If you want to be there – get in touch today. Limited number of places.
Today is the anniversary of something that changed my life dramatically. On January 6th 2009, I sent a response to an advert on Gumtree, advertising the weekly MissImp improv jam. I’d already checked out the MissImp website, was looking for something drama or writing-based to after moving to Nottingham and decided I’d give improv a go. I’d not done any improv since I was 16 – more than half a lifetime ago – so I really didn’t know how it’d go. I’d ended up googling for improv in Nottingham after seeing Tina Fey doing some improv on YouTube with the Upright Citizens Brigade (taken from a UCB show they did for television).
I got an email back the same day from the lovely Charlotte inviting me to learn some basic techniques in a Tuesday group. I remember having fun, wanting to learn more and wanting to eventually join the Thursday group as there were only about four of us on Tuesday. ”I don’t think I’ll do both though. Twice a week might be a bit much” – oh how things change.
The first show I saw was “The Knights Of Jamalot” on Saturday 24th January. I met all the players in the pub afterwards and said I’d definitely be along on the following Thursday. From that moment I was hooked. The anticipation before every Thursday was incredible. I didn’t want jams to end.
March 2009 and I made it into my first show – an elimination show but somehow I made it to the end of the first half and was allowed to play in the second half. I still don’t quite know how that happened but, to be fair, the scoring system was a bit complex so it was probably a maths error.
January 2010 and I take my first trip to the UCB Theatre in New York and get exposed to longform improvisation for the first time. I still count this as one of the best weeks of my life. It was that moment where I realised that this was what I was always meant to have been doing as a human. This was “my thing” – it was what made sense to me. I was an improviser and the immersion of a week of intensive improvisation made me realise this.
Since then I’ve been back to the UCB a couple of times, we’ve flown a couple of UCB teachers over to teach MissImp and last year I spent time at The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago learning from the people who taught my comedy heroes.
This year I’m starting a new two person improv comedy collaboration with Jenny Rowe from The Maydays, arranging more of our “Consenting Partners” shows, teaching another set of beginners, intermediate and advanced courses for MissImp and travelling to do workshops in Bristol and Lancaster in the next couple of months too.
All this from a moment of curiosity on the internet on January 6th, four years ago. I couldn’t have imagined the journey on which I was about to embark. Thank you MissImp – I can’t express how incredible it has been so far.