I had great pleasure in July to be involved with two very significant improv shows.
Initially I thought them to be vastly different but, I see now, they have many similarities, in all the best ways.
The first of these shows was the culmination of a three month project conducted in conjunction with Theatre Delicatessen, Performers in the Park: The Butterfly Effect.
Many a great, and hoping to be great, improviser, aspire to play as freely as young people do. Adult improvisers could take lessons from the fearlessness and inventiveness of children when constructing their own make-em- ups. I had the pleasure of seeing first hand what happens when we reverse this idea and give the fearless, inventive children improv lessons.
For three months, on behalf of Theatre Delicatessen, I worked with Key Stage 3 students from four schools across Southwark, Ark Globe Academy, James Allen’s Girls’ School, Walworth Academy and Harris Academy Peckham. I visited these schools one hour per week teaching improv skills from scratch. From scratch, to show, in 10 weeks is an enormous challenge, but one which everyone more than rose to. The schools did a mix of short and long form improv (that’s right, I crossed the streams) and the compliments were so effusive it bordered on insulting by the end.
“That was so funny!”
“The kids were so good!”
*I’ll tell them.*
“I didn’t expect it to be so funny!”
“I can’t believe how talented these young people are!”
In fairness to our well-intentioned audience the young people who performed were a credit to comedy on stage but, off stage, were a credit to themselves, their schools and their Drama teachers. Each school was unique and wonderful in their own way, the students even more so, but more on this later.
The second show to grace my July was Zeal, a fantastic, week long improv festival celebrating Pride Month and LGBTQ members of the improv community.
C3? were thrilled to host the opening night of Zeal and welcome players and audience whose improv styles were as diversified as themselves.
While Zeal was a brilliant festival, which the entire London improv community united behind, the one thing lamented by organisers was the lack of LGBTQ players at an LGBTQ festival. Improv has always had a problem with diversity, leaning heavily towards white, middle class, cisgendered men, and while Zeal seemingly proved the entire community is behind increased diversity and inclusivity, it also showed we’re not there yet.
This is where, in my mind, these two seemingly unique shows unite. While the current crop of London improvisers are doing their best to nail down diversity, from what I’ve seen, the future already had it covered. The most exciting part of Performers in the Park was the range of young people involved.
Southwark is a fantastically diversified borough and the few square miles of London it covers contains such a wonderful array of people. I worked with students of different ages, races, ethnic backgrounds, genders and learning styles. Even their heights were hugely varied.
Diversity, in improv comedy, is everything. We bring ourselves to the stage, meaning the more we celebrate our differences off stage the more varied and unique our shows are on stage.
Don’t believe me? I refer you to the audience praise above.
I love improv and I’m thrilled with each and every opportunity I have to perform it, teach it and help it grow. My thanks to those who support me in this, Emma Blackman, of Theatre Delicatessen, Liam Brennan, plus the Southwark schools and council, for all their help with Performers in the Park, and also to Kat Halstead and Stephen Davidson, organisers of Zeal.
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