In a wonderful article (see here) by the lovely Jason Blackwater of Brighton improv group The Maydays, there is talk of how we need a dedicated improv venue in the UK. Jason is 100% right and given that MissImp is one of the UK’s larger improv groups, we have a golden opportunity to be at the heart of something pretty astonishing.
In the most recent MissImp podcast, improv legend and founder member of the Annoyance Theatre, Susan Messing says “You guys can build the fucking pyramids.” She said the UK was the most exciting place an improviser could be at the moment. I think in many respects she’s right, but it’s also pretty daunting.
Sure, we have a model of how an improv theatre can run from the many in Chicago, New York and LA. We also know it doesn’t have to start in the biggest city or where all the TV and movie people are either – and that’s good news for groups like MissImp and The Maydays. What we are still working out is how it will start.
So would this theatre look like? What elements would it need to make it work? Here are some thoughts, in no particular order, that struck me as important – please feel free to add to these in the comments section:
A bar: The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago and The PIT in NYC do this bit really well. Have a lovely bar as people walk in. Somewhere they can come to drink, but stay for the improv. If the bar itself is nice, it becomes a great hangout for creative types. As Jason points out in his blog, bars require managers and deals with drinks suppliers. There’s a lot involved in this element alone, but it’s probably crucial to the funding on the venue. Here’s the thing – we all want to perform, but do we want to find the time finding a decent bar manager and staff?
A curriculum: Having students of improv means not only are you spreading the word of improv, but you are building a community of people who will come to see shows and, hopefully, perform in the future. Holding classes in the theatre also helps keep the space being used and potentially helps fund it too. At the moment a number of groups have / are developing their own training programs, including MissImp. Whilst different groups are going to concentrate on different styles, is it worth getting heads together and establishing some base level competencies that are transferrable between several improv groups in the UK? I doubt there is too much difference between what most people teach beginners – but I’d be interested to find out where the difference of emphasis / style really starts to show.
Performers: Sounds obvious, right? A lot of UK groups perform once or twice a month but when you have a theatre you are going to have regular shows every week. Even if the theatre only opens its doors to the public on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday for one show per evening, that’s still more shows in a week than many groups do in a month. How much will a scene in a town have to grow before they can fill slots – and will other performers from other cities get involved in performing at a new improv space?
Something like this is going to happen soon. It might be in Nottingham. It might not be. Either way, improvisers will have to come together to help make it happen. The chances are that the improvisers from one town or city won’t be able to do it on their own. If the call for help comes from another city, I hope we’ll be ready to respond and help make a permanent space for improv in the UK happen. It is in all our interests as improvisers for that first space to be something amazing.