This month we are going behind the scenes of the Newcastle based improv show Let Us Make It Up To You to give you all the inside information and to give you more into this great little improv show that happens regularly up in the North East. As well as finding out more about the show we will also be talking to the people behind the scenes. Today I caught up with Alex to find out more about his improv experience.
Hello Alex how long have you been improvising?
How did you get into improv?
A friend who worked in theatre recommended Keith Johnstone’s book because they knew I was interested in creativity. Then a few months later I started playing roleplaying games with Graham Walmsley, who went on to write Play Unsafe: How Improvisation Can Change The Way You Roleplay. Graham had trained in the Johnstone tradition at the Spontaneity Shop, and I decided to try it for myself, mainly to be a better at playing rpgs. Very quickly, improv ate my roleplaying.
What is your favourite style of improv and why?
I’ve learnt pretty evenly from both of the lines inheriting the tradition of our great mother Viola Spolin’s; that’s Keith’s “impro” and Del Close’s “improv”. Both brought a special sauce to what we do.
Johnstone had a personal fixation with dream logic – that pigeon feeders were the devil, that hunted bears were your parents in bear suits – and the meta quality of improv, of engaging with the audience directly. Del Close imbued improvisation with a psychedelic edge, interested in cut-up, collage, nonlinearity.
I find the world where these collide most satisfyingly is in freeform/organic longform improvisation, a la the work of Kevin Scott, Big Bang Improv, or Jet Eveleth. I love the fluid quality where one thing can transform into another, where dream logic clicks into place like match cuts, where the audience can be drawn in organically.
Who are your top 5 favourite improvisers and why?
Becky Johnson – clown of bleakness, who with Kayla Lorette plays as the Sufferettes. superb coach and one of the most daring performers I have seen.
Jet Eveleth. Being taught by Jet was a concentrated blast of the organic, transformative power of improvisation, and watching her on stage was just batshit, always out on a limb.
Will Hines – a great thoughtful teacher, who performs with an emphasis on humanising characters and situations while being hilarious, and sometimes startling you with unexpected craziness.
Derek Flores – someone willing to take huge risks, but also steeped in literature and eloquence. A performer who will do a Japanese ordeal game show scene in one moment and then channel his recent breakup into the next scene.
TJ Jagodowski – known for TJ and Dave, but what impressed me most was seeing him playing in Chicago in other configurations and being struck how you wouldn’t know he was a “name” his patient, team-focused contributions were modest and still essential.
My favourite group is Austin Texas’ Parallelogramophonograph for their dizzying array of improvised plays, investigation of genre, and good-natured playfulness.
What is your favourite warm up game?
Beat That. Do a repetitive action. Partner copies. Then take turns to label your action while challenging the other to “beat that”. Simple, but so inspiring to see the world of physical possibility open up from a simple game
Favourite short form game?
Word at a Time. It teaches great skills and spirit, as short form should, but is also very watchable. It’s a great way to throw a contrast in between more standard scenes, but still contains all the ingredients I want in improv: collaborative reliance over individual wit, physicality and verve over headiness, and a surrender to things flowing outwards rather than stand-and-deliver.
What are the three top tips anyone has ever taught you in improv?
“Improv is like being in a meteor shower with gifts flying by 1 million per second – just reach out your arm and grab one and make it meaningful” – Scott Adsit
“Invest, don’t invent” – Christian Capozzoli
“You don’t need to understand it to support it” – Tara DeFrancisco. This is the biggest and has probably changed my life.
In no more than 5 words, what advice would you give them?
Open yourself up to others.
What are some of your favourite new acts you have come across this year and why?
Seeing Newcastle legends the Suggestibles for the first time doing great stuff
Nottingham’s Smash Night house team are anarchic and tons of fun
The Courtyard Players in Dubai run a terrific Maestro night
The Raving Janes in NYC are super cool to play with, and their own show sounds great, mixing improv with their background as trained dancers!
How would you describe your personal sort of improv?
I enjoy exploring vulnerability and suffering a lot, and also connection and poetry. At heart, I think that being is good, but there are lots of ways we can get tangled up in it appearing otherwise, and like playing with those appearances and seeing what lies beneath them.
Describe each LUMIUTY/HANG member in one word
Owen – Rapidfire
Will – Rapacious
Toby – Flamboyant
Matthew – Bold
Katie – Idiot