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. We sat down with the group to find out a lot more about the people behind the show.
Hello Can you tell us a little bit about the show Let Us Make It Up To You and the people behind it?
There are four of us behind the show currently, which runs at the Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Owen Scrivens moved back to Newcastle last year after a long stint in Liverpool, where he trained in improv and performed for years with Sticky Floor and Impropriety, including in numerous improvathons.
William Steele has long been involved in the performance arts scene in the city, and comes to improv with a particularly Keith Johnstone flavour, including extensive work in mask improvisation. Oh and puppets.
Alex Fradera is a Newcastle newbie as of last year, and beforehand had been doing a lot of teaching and training abroad. He came to Newcastle to start an improvisation company with Will, and then the two met Owen and began the night together.
Our newest member of the team is Katie Tranter who is an actor, mime and clown and with the others a core member of our house team.
How did you guys start the show?
Alex and Will were introduced to Owen through a mutual friend and found we were thinking across very similar lines. We were keen that the show find a home at the Alphabetti Theatre, as it’s the perfect venue for improvised comedy – very intimate, making the audience eager to get involved. (We also love the opportunity to use the stage and tech at the theatre to really push our production values.) We agreed on a run of five shows to get started, and have now run seven with another six scheduled, roughly every month.
“The flavour of our house team set is quite distinct, and puts the imprint that this is a night of improvised (comedic) theatre, which is interested in laughter but not only that…”
How did you come up with the name Let Us Make It Up To You ?
This was down to Owen, who came up with the name a few years back when he was considering an improvised cabaret night in Liverpool that would have been a combination of improviser and artists that do not normally improvise.
As well as being a fun improv pun, the name focuses on the connection between the performers and the audience. That’s a great thing about improv shows, that we all discover everything together.
What style of Improv happens at these nights?
A bit of everything. One of the reasons for starting this night was to bring a whole variety of different voices to the Newcastle improvisation scene.
Outside of improv circles, the UK comedy audience still thinks of “Whose line is it anyway?”. There is nothing wrong with that show, but improv has so much more to offer and we are looking to show a bit of everything.
The one commonality is our house team, The Hang. This uses theatrical scenes that indulge in the joys of everyday conversation. These hang scenes have a pre-decided location so that we can have a simple set and costumes; these production values help us (even if just a little) to bridge that gap between theatre and improv.
We then use the hang scenes to inspire a quickfire run of scenes, stories and songs. It’s similar to the “Living Room” format but with more theatrical elements blended in.
You have acts from America as part of this month’s line up – tell us about that!
We’re delighted to have guest improvisers and teachers over from Austin, Texas: Lindsey McGowan and Peter Rogers, who both work with the celebrated Hideout Theater. They are hugely experienced, and we believe they will be bringing something unique and new to the Newcastle improvised comedy and theatre scene.
The night will have two formats developed by these improvisers, A narrative choose-your-own-adventure where the audience gets to decide what happens, and an improvised Lovecraft full of “cosmic horror”- secret knowledge, creeping madness, and a sense that humanity itself is terrifyingly insignificant.
What will really mark this show out is that Lindsey is the Technical Director at the Hideout, and will be bringing her years of experience in improv tech to it.
Peter and Lindsey will also be teaching workshops in the city over the weekend. It is exciting to be able to bring great improvisers to the city to teach and perform.
“..the name focuses on the connection between the performers and the audience.”
What sort of suggestions do you ask the audience at these nights ?
It really varies.
When we have a short-form component we will often ask for classic stuff like locations, relationships and emotions.
With the house team our ask-fors tend to be things to seed the first hang scene, for instance an unusual object to be found in the room, or the name or reputation of the institution we are hanging in.
We have been recently looking at new ways of getting the audience more involved. We debuted a new short form format at the September show based on cult nineties TV show Gladiators. Two of the audience members competed by giving suggestions, taking over the host job and taking control of scenes. It was a lot of fun to make the audience members the heroes.
But really the acts can take any approach they want, including no suggestions at all!
What advice have you been given by others about hosting a show?
Keep the hosting clear and punchy. Don’t get too distracted. Remember names of who you are introducing.
We were recently reminded that audiences have a very mixed experience of improv and we should maybe look at explaining some of the common improv techniques like sweep and tag edits.
What will make you different to other improv shows out there?
The flavour of our house team set is quite distinct, and puts the imprint that this is a night of improvised (comedic) theatre, which is interested in laughter but not only that.
Otherwise the variety and aim for experimentalism – it’s unlikely that you will see the same game onstage two shows in a row, for example – and the fact that we are trying to bring acts from all over the country and abroad.
Last month we had a long form act, a dance based improv act, a one man improvised musical and a short form set based on Gladiators. It is a very different show each month, but the atmosphere is always the same.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe?
(Will) Just do it. Start and then take as many workshops and go to as many festivals as you can.
(Owen) I think it is important to find what your group do well and indulge that. If you are planning on being a performance group I think it is important to make sure you are going to put on a good show. Some improvisers are trained performers and others are not, but I think that these skills are often undervalued in improv groups. Make sure you make use of the stage, work on your acting and work out how you can raise the production values of your show.
It is also really important to want to keep learning! Even if you are doing great shows, you should be seeking out learning opportunities to keep you fresh.
If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?
We are still working on our social media skills!
See the guys at The Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle this Saturday at 8pm. We will have more from the team next week.